A large dumpster filled to the brim full of pumpkins ready to be recycled. | Shanel Romain

On an early Saturday morning, AJ Stierwalt was outside Roosevelt Middle School’s gym, trying to figure out the best way to launch a pumpkin into a dumpster. From what the seventh grader could tell, he had two options: he could either climb the ladder that leaned against the giant container or stand on top of a brick railing and toss the pumpkin from there.

Either way, all Stierwalt wanted was to see the pumpkins go splat.

“It’s really just fun being here, throwing the pumpkins and just seeing them explode. That’s really cool,” said Stierwalt, 12, on Nov. 6. 

A group of kids throwing their pumpkins into the large dumpster at Roosevelt Middle School on Saturday, November 6. (Shanel Romain)

Stierwalt was one of several student volunteers from Roosevelt and other River Forest District 90 schools helping with the Pumpkin Smash, an annual event held the first Saturday after Halloween. The three-hour-long event is part of a larger effort from the District 90 PTO’s Green4Good Committee and SCARCE, an Addison-based nonprofit dedicated to teaching local families about environmental issues. With the Pumpkin Smash, area families and residents are encouraged to bring their pumpkins and pitch them into a compost pile.

According to the SCARCE website, pumpkins should not be thrown into landfills. Landfills are one of the nation’s biggest sources of methane, a greenhouse gas more powerful than carbon dioxide that has a devastating impact on the environment, the site stated. And ditching pumpkins – which release methane when they decompose – at landfills contributes to an already growing problem. SCARCE also noted that pumpkins are made up of 90% water and packed with nutrients, both of which are good for soil.

Since 2018, District 90 joined SCARCE and dozens of other Chicago suburbs in hosting the Pumpkin Smash, bringing in hundreds and hundreds of pumpkins. This year, the district rounded up its biggest collection yet: a whopping total of 1,379 pumpkins, weighing almost eight tons.

“There’s a great sense of community with people pulling up their wagons and grandparents coming with grandkids [to dispose of their pumpkins],” said Renee Sichlau, parent of a student at Roosevelt and Green4Good committee member. “It’s very joyful, and I love it.”

For Sichlau, she loves the silliness of the event, as adults and children alike work together to crush, break and split the pumpkins. “There are all sorts of efforts that come into it. They’re the ones who launch them into the dumpster. They’re the little ones on dad’s shoulders,” she said. “It’s just a real kind of crazy thing.”

During the Pumpkin Smash, three girls from Roosevelt’s Spirit and Service Club huddled around a table, eying down every discolored, carved and oddly shaped pumpkin. Zoe Lefevour, Margaret Bedell and Juliet Summy, all of whom are 10 and fifth graders, were in charge of counting the pumpkins and spoke about how excited they were to see so many people participating and taking steps to make the environment a better place.

Stierwalt echoed the girls and added there are plenty of easy ways to care for the environment.

“I want people to be respectful of our planet,” he said. “We only have one. So, if we compost and we use less electricity, turn off all the lights, all the simple things can add up, and then we can have a much cleaner, prettier area.”

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