SECS hosts sustainable pumpkin smashing event

FAA+freshman+Trey+McCallister+and+Sachi+Tillu%2C+freshman+in+LAS+prepare+pumpkins+to+be+smashed+at+Red+Herring+on+Sunday.+%0AThe+Student+for+Environmental+Concerns+held+its+first+pumpkin+smashing+event+supported+by+SCARCE.++%0A

James Hoeck

FAA freshman Trey McCallister and Sachi Tillu, freshman in LAS prepare pumpkins to be smashed at Red Herring on Sunday. The Student for Environmental Concern’s held its first pumpkin smashing event supported by SCARCE.

By Alyssa Shih, Contributing writer

Dozens of pumpkins with sunken-in grimaces sat on a table outside of the Red Herring Vegetarian Restaurant in Urbana on Sunday afternoon. Instead of going to the landfill, the pumpkins were meeting an even more gory fate at the Students for Environmental Concern’s first pumpkin composting and smashing event.

Trey McCallister, freshman in FAA, organized the event with support from SCARCE, an environmental education nonprofit located in Addison, Ill. After volunteering at a pumpkin composting event in his hometown of Itasca, Ill., McCallister wanted to bring the event to the University of Illinois. 

“Over a billion pounds of pumpkins end up in landfills every single year,” McCallister said. “Illinois is the number one producer of pumpkins in the entire United States, so we’re producing a lot of pumpkin waste.”

In just the first hour, more than 50 pumpkins were collected. Participants were invited to drop off their pumpkins or ask for a SECS member to pick up their pumpkins for them. The pumpkins would then be taken to be smashed for more efficient composting.

McCallister explained that pumpkins shouldn’t just be thrown away even though they are just plants. 

“They release a lot of methane emissions, and they’re also made out of a lot of water,” McCallister said. “Composting pumpkins allows you to put the nutrients back into the ground.”

Methane, a greenhouse gas, has around 80 times the warming power that carbon dioxide does. It is estimated that roughly 30% of all global warming has been caused by methane emissions. 

Not only would participants be disposing of their pumpkins responsibly, McCallister explained that the Urbana Recycling Center they had partnered with connects with local farmers who use the nutrient-rich product. 

Not all pumpkins could simply be collected and sledgehammered, though, as some had to be prepped for composting. Sachi Tillu, freshman in LAS and a member of SECS, was tasked with taking paint off of some decorated pumpkins. 

“We don’t know where all of the pumpkins come from because people just drop them off,” Tillu said. “We don’t know if the paint is toxic.”

As SECS members came back from pick-up requests and trips to the dumpster, many were filled with a sense of purpose. 

“I just really care about the environment,” Tillu said. “It’s part of the reason why I’m a biology major. And Trey was really passionate about putting this event together. He didn’t want to do something a couple of months down the line. He wanted to do something now.”

Recently, SECS organized a climate strike in front of Alma Mater. Amid rising anxiety about the state of the climate, SECS has led many events for individuals to participate in climate activism.

“One of our core practices is trying to get the University to divest from fossil fuels,” McCallister said. “We recently had our climate strike. We had a letter writing session to get the board of trustees to divest from fossil fuels last week. It all ties into putting power into the people’s hands.”

As the tables were crowded with more pumpkins, McCallister reflected on individual awareness in the climate movement. 

“Be aware of your actions,” McCallister said. “Be aware of what you’re buying, what you’re eating, what you’re doing with your waste.”

 

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