Rotting pumpkins a recipe for climate disaster

By Hyeonji Kim

As you walk into Tesco at Market Square, you are instantly greeted by piles of pumpkins which you can take home for only £1-2 per pumpkin. Alternatively, you might have even gone pumpkin picking with your friends and family for a fun bonding session. You can’t wait to start carving spooky faces on the pumpkins, but little did you know, the spookiest part of Halloween is in fact the monstrous amount of food waste from discarded pumpkins.

According to recent research, it is estimated that roughly 14.5 million pumpkins will be discarded in the UK this year after they have been carved for Halloween. This is just under half of the total pumpkins that are estimated to be purchased for Halloween. This mountain of uneaten pumpkins contributes to the astonishing 6.6 million tonnes of food waste produced in UK households each year, an amount that can fill roughly 66,000 three-bed terraced houses.

On a global scale, if food wastage were a country, it would come third after China and USA as the third largest greenhouse gas emitter

This is incredibly problematic for the environment in many ways, especially in the context of heightened discussions around Net Zero and the upcoming COP26 conference. Firstly, food waste directly exacerbates climate change, as rotting food in landfills emit methane, a type of greenhouse gas that is much more harmful than carbon dioxide.

Importantly, wasting edible food also equates to wasting the water, energy, land and other resources that have gone into the production, transportation, processing and storage of that food, resulting in the colossal carbon footprint associated with food waste. According to a report by WRAP, a leading sustainability charity, in 2019 carbon dioxide emissions linked to food thrown away in the UK was 36 million tonnes, roughly a quarter of total UK food system emissions that year. On a global scale, if food wastage were a country, it would come third after China and USA as the third largest greenhouse gas emitter. If we were to reduce the amount of edible food that’s thrown away in the UK, it would be equivalent to taking 2.4 million cars off the road for a year.

So how do we minimise our impact? As a consumer, the first step we should take is to plan our meals in advance and purchase only what we really need. We should then make sure that we make the most of the leftover food, by saving them for another day or popping them in the freezer for longer term storage. Finally, you can divert food waste from local landfills by composting them or disposing of them in food waste collections.

Fortunately, pumpkins are not only delicious and highly nutritious, but also incredibly versatile

If you have already stocked up on your pumpkins for this Halloween, fear not. Fortunately, pumpkins are not only delicious and highly nutritious, but also incredibly versatile. If you are in the mood for something sweet, try out the pumpkin pies, pumpkin muffins, or even pumpkin spice latte from homemade pumpkin puree. Looking for something more savoury? Start with the classic pumpkin soup, and experiment with creamy pumpkin pasta, pumpkin curry, and my personal favourite — pumpkin stuffed ravioli.

For those seeking a lazier option, a basic side of roasted pumpkin is also a delightful companion to your weekend roast. Don’t forget that you can also eat the kernels; simply boil the seeds and pop them in the oven to roast. They are a great addition to your granola bowl or salad for that extra boost of vitamins and minerals. For those with cats or dogs, you’ll be glad to hear that cooked pumpkin is also a healthy snack for your furry friends (when given in moderation).

The often overlooked environmental impact of food waste calls us to make conscious decisions — not just for Halloween, but in our everyday life in general. This may seem trivial, but it’s the small changes that count. If each and every one of us act, together it will be a meaningful step towards tackling climate change.

Image: Elliar Cheung

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