Pumpkins, Pumpkins, Everywhere: A Zero Waste Guide To Minimizing Waste From Pumpkins

Pumpkins are all over town and there are many ways to use them. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com

Zero Waste Tip: Decomposing carved pumpkins can be composted in your backyard or put in the Los Alamos County Environmental Services Pumpkin Collection Dumpster. That will be available at the Fuller Lodge Art Center Parking Lot from October 29 – November 1.


Its fall and time for Halloween, Thanksgiving and all things pumpkin! Pumpkins are believed to have originated in Central America, with traces of their seeds found throughout North America thousands of years before European colonization. These hearty fruits were an important staple due to their hard skin and longevity of storage.

Today, the versatile pumpkin is more than just a holiday decoration. It can be used to make a spooky jack-o-lantern or a tasty and nutritious snack.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

  1. Carve your pumpkin and remove the seeds and pumpkin fibers/pulp from the inside of the pumpkin. Do your best to separate the seeds from the fibers and save the seeds in a bowl. The fibers can be composted.
  2. Wash the seeds in a bowl of water, rubbing with your finders to separate remaining strings and clingy pumpkin bits. Drain water.
  3. Boil the seeds in a pot of salted water for about 10 minutes.
  4. Drain water and dry the seeds thoroughly using a towel.
  5. Place the seeds in a bowl to oil and season the seeds to taste (seasoning blend ideas below).
  6. Place seeds on a baking sheet in a single layer and bake at 325 degrees F for about 20-25 minutes. You should check on the seeds every 10 minutes or so and mix them around on the baking sheet.
  7. Cool the seeds and store in an airtight container for up to 2 months in the refrigerator or at room temperature for a week.

Pumpkin Seed Seasoning Ideas:

Sweet Pumpkin Seeds

  • 1-2 tablespoons of butter
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin spice or cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Sweet Chili Pumpkin Seeds

  • 2 teaspoons of olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce

Sweet and Salty Pumpkin Seeds

  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Once your jack-o-lantern has seen better days and starts to decompose, you can put it in your compost pile, if you have one, or drop it in the County’s pumpkin collection bin located at Fuller Lodge Art Center Parking Lot. It will be made into compost.

Larger pumpkins that are traditionally used for Halloween carving are not the ideal variety for cooking because they are a little more tough and stringy. However, if you bought pumpkins to display on your porch, but did not carve them, do not throw them away! They can still be cooked and used in many recipes! This includes white and warty pumpkins.

The smaller, baking or sugar pumpkins are most often used for cooking. These smaller pumpkins can be found in your grocery store or at Farmers Markets during the fall.

One way to use your baking pumpkin is in this beautiful and delicious soup:

Barley Soup Baked in a Pumpkin


1 whole, large pumpkin of any variety (4-6 pounds)

2 teaspoons vegetable/canola oil (for rubbing exterior of pumpkin)

2 tablespoons butter (sub olive oil if you wish)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 whole chopped onion

3 cloves chopped garlic

½ teaspoon dry Italian seasoning or oregano/basil mix

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons black pepper

½ teaspoon paprika

1 can white beans, drained and rinsed

6 cups chicken or vegetable stock, hot

½ cup pearl barley, uncooked

3 cups chopped kale

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice


  1. Prepare the pumpkin:
  2. Wash your pumpkin and dry it off. Rub the exterior with vegetable oil until shiny and even.
  3. Make a lid on the top of the pumpkin by cutting around the stem at a 45-degree angle so the lid does not fall inside.
  4. Make sure the opening is large enough to work within. Remove the seeds and fibers with a metal spoon or ice cream scoop and kitchen shears.
  5. Reserve the seeds for another use, like roasting or planting next summer.
  6. Place oiled pumpkin on a cookie sheet and put aside for now.
  7. Set oven to 375°F and move rack to the lower third of the oven. You will want to be sure your pumpkin fits!
  8. In a large pot set over medium heat, add the butter and the olive oil. When melted together, add the onion and sauté for about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and allow to become fragrant. Add the Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, and paprika, and gently stir together to coat all items in the pot. Add the white beans and the hot chicken stock and stir together. Add the barley, stir, and allow to cook for 25-30 minutes, lightly covered and stirring occasionally.
  9. Carefully ladle the soup into the pumpkin and place lid on. Bake for 1 hour and 30 minutes. When finished the flesh should be soft but not mushy (it should hold its shape for serving) and the barley cooked. If the walls of the pumpkin do not indent slightly when poked, continue baking at 5-10 minute intervals until it becomes soft enough that you can scoop out some of the flesh with each ladle of soup.
  10. Remove pumpkin from oven and set on counter, adding chopped kale to the inside. Stir, allowing the kale to wilt into the soup for about 5 minutes, and add the lemon juice to the soup in the final stir.

Serve at the table directly from the pumpkin on the cookie sheet, scooping a bit of pumpkin flesh from the side/top with each ladleful. Try to save the flesh at the bottom for later servings so the pumpkin doesn’t collapse. Keep the pumpkin on the cookie sheet in case you breach the wall! This is a real crowd pleaser; serve with bread and salad and enjoy!

Pumpkin puree is used to make a number of recipes and can be made from both sugar pumpkins and the larger Halloween pumpkins. You will find the taste so much better than canned pumpkin!

Pumpkin Puree Recipe

  1. Heat oven to 400°
  2. Cut a pumpkin in half (avoid cutting through the stalk) and scoop out the seeds and strings. Save seeds for later use.
  3. Lightly salt flesh of pumpkin with kosher salt. Put pumpkin, flesh side down on a lightly oiled roasting pan. Roast for 45-60 minutes, until the flesh can easily be pierced with a knife.
  4. Remove from oven and let cool. Scoop out the flesh and pulse in your food processor until smooth*. Use in your recipe or freeze for later use.

Another fall favorite is pumpkin bread, which uses pumpkin puree.

Pumpkin Bread

2/3 c canola or vegetable oil

½ c apple sauce

1 ½ c sugar

3 eggs

2 c pumpkin puree

1 ½ c sifted white flour

1 ½ c sifted whole wheat flour

1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ground cloves

1 tsp ground nutmeg


  1. Heat oven to 350° and grease well two loaf pans
  2. Beat together oil, applesauce, sugar and eggs in large bowl. Add pumpkin and mix well. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour into loaf pans.
  3. Bake for 1 hour, or until toothpick inserted in top comes out clean. Place on rack to cool. After 10 minutes remove from pans and finish cooling on rack.

Enjoy these lovely and inexpensive fruits throughout the fall and winter and remember these Zero Waste tips:

  • Save seeds for roasting or for planting next year.
  • Uncarved pumpkins can be used for many different sweet and savory recipes and will last a long time when stored in a cool, dark place
  • If you don’t plan to eat your decorative pumpkins, reach out to local goat or sheep owners, or local wildlife rehabilitators, and ask them if they would be interested in your uncut pumpkins for the animals

*If you do not have a food processor, you can use a blender, mixer, chopper, large grater or grinder. If you do not have any of these kitchen appliances, you will have to bake a little longer so that the pumpkin is falling apart. Then mash it up to put into baggies and save in your freezer for future recipes.