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Proper Green: Is it bad to paint my pumpkin?

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Painted pumpkins are a classic Fall decoration. Here’s how to make them last, and how to dispose of them.

Dear Proper Green,

Can you compost pumpkins that have been painted?

-Amy S., AL

Dear Amy,

Although many craft paints are labeled non-toxic, this is in reference to its intended uses — such as adorning the surface of a pumpkin. But if you compost the pumpkin, the paint will eventually seep into your compost and nearby soil and water. Possible contamination of soil and water is not an intended use of paint, so it is best not to introduce paint into your compost. Glitter paint is also problematic because the glitter becomes litter!

If only part of your pumpkin is painted, cut the painted portions off to put in the trash. If the whole thing is painted, play it safe and put the whole thing in the trash; it will help to reduce recycling contamination.

Also keep in mind that a pumpkin covered in a preservative sealant, whether or not it is painted, could introduce harmful chemicals. Instead of using a sealant, take a few preparatory steps to extend its life:
  • Choose a pumpkin that is ripe and healthy, with a hard shell that is free of nicks or blemishes.
  • Wipe it down with a diluted bleach solution (one tablespoon of bleach to one gallon of water) to remove bacteria and fungal spores.
  • Once you’ve painted it, place it somewhere dry and out of the sun. This will preserve both the decoration and the pumpkin itself for up to several weeks.

Regardless of how you used your pumpkin — for carving, painting, or eating — remember to remove all the seeds before composting. Otherwise, you may be surprised by the results of a different kind of contamination: Pumpkin plants!

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How do you make the most of pumpkins? Share your ideas in the comments below!

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Proper Green
Proper Green

Proper Green is Recyclebank's green advice column. From promoting good manners in a green world (because ideas about what constitutes proper behavior and... more

  • sandy c. 13 days ago
    we carve just the fronts and compost them later, they grow into new pumpkins and even if the groundhogs get them, you still have a good chance of getting one or two for the next year.
  • Laura L. 16 days ago
    Painting pumpkins instead of carving is becoming so popular now, I think a lot of people with young kids just can't think of other less mess/safe ways to decorate. Don't forget you can always use stickers which are easier to take off than paint, or your child could draw a face on paper and color it, cut out the eyes/nose/etc and pin it on the pumpkin or use easy to remove glue like rubber cement. Then the paper could be recycled and pumpkin composted, and the kids have a lot of fun drawing their own pumpkin faces. It's easier clean up than paint too.
    • Laura L. 16 days ago
      They can also put their own dress-up accessories on the pumpkin like headbands, hats, earrings, scarves, etc.
  • Dee R. 21 days ago
    I agree, I would not think paint on the pumpkin would be good. Even if the pumpkin isn't cut...the paint can absorb into the flesh of the pumpkin. Years back we used to write with markers on IV bags in the hospital...;listing all the things we added to the bag that the doctors ordered. At a point, that was no longer allowed as the maker could absorb into the fluid. Thus came the paper sticky labels!
    • lisa p. 21 days ago
      That info about the marker should help people realize that marker decorated pumpkins might be "Easy" but in the end, it isn't good for the planet. half the fun of halloween as a child was digging out hands into pumpkin guts and then roasting the seeds for snacks later. I say CARVE! There are some many easy and reusable templates these days and great carving tools that even the worst carver can turn out a work of art! If you buy templates, trade them with friends each year for a new look.
    • Dee R. 19 days ago
      excellent idea! the kids won't get bored with the same design! And it's been soooo long since we've roasted the seeds!!!...I can see another snack for movie night:). Thanks for the great ideas!
  • Dmytro L. 2 years ago
  • Brigida P. 3 years ago
    Can't wait to do this with my daughters!!
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