April 26, 2007 | General

Pumpkin Smashing Builds Compost Awareness

BioCycle April 2007, Vol. 48, No. 4, p. 35
Annual event after Halloween reaches people who would not be aware of composting, making it a prime example of how to diversify the message to a wider audience.
Caitlyn Vernon

EACH YEAR at Halloween, the majority of pumpkins carved for jack-o-lanterns in urban settings end up in the landfill. The Greater Victoria Compost Education Centre (GVCEC) in British Columbia, Canada organizes the Pumpkin Smash, an annual community event the weekend after Halloween, to invite residents of the Capital Region on Vancouver Island to compost their jack-o-lanterns instead of throwing them in the garbage.
This community event would not be possible without a wide range of partnerships between local businesses, local government, nonprofit organizations, and the media. Over 1,500 people a year participate directly in the event, while the publicity reaches tens of thousands. As such, it has been an effective strategy for engaging the public around waste reduction issues. Our invitation to Do the Pumpkin Smash! is an innovative and exciting way for the public to become aware of, and involved in, composting in their community.
The goals of the Greater Victoria Compost Education Centre in organizing the Pumpkin Smash are to: Divert organic waste from the landfill; Promote composting as a means of waste reduction; Build partnerships that can assist with composting and waste reduction in the region beyond this community event; and Educate people about how to compost.
Victoria is the capital city of British Columbia, Canada. It is part of the Capital Regional District (CRD) with a population of approximately 350,000. Out of an estimated 730,000 kg (805 tons) of pumpkins purchased annually in the region, approximately 40-60 percent end up in the landfill. Over only two days on the weekend after Halloween, the Pumpkin Smash is able to divert more than 80 cubic yards of pumpkins from the landfill and into the fields of a local farm.
The abundance of organic waste around Halloween provides an excellent opportunity to engage the public with composting as a form of waste reduction. A recent CRD waste composition study found that 37 percent of household waste is organic materials. This kind of public engagement event has proven effective at encouraging residents to begin home composting.
Timed to coincide with a festive time of year, the Pumpkin Smash attracts a larger crowd each time it is held. One of the attractions is that it is a free event with only a minimal donation, where children and their families can participate in pumpkin smashing games. Children love being given permission to smash their jack-o-lanterns. By having the event at a grocery store the weekend after Halloween, it is convenient for people to drop off their jack-o-lanterns while running errands or food shopping. It reaches people who wouldn’t normally have exposure to composting, making it a prime example of how to diversify messaging to reach a wide audience.
Communication and outreach are important aspects of successful public engagement. The Pumpkin Smash effectively mobilizes local media with easy-to-understand images that appeal to youth and adults alike. With stickers pasted onto pumpkins for sale that say “Carve me… then compost me!” and with media communications that encourage people to “Smash it, don’t trash it,” the wording used to promote this event make it fun and inviting for all.
During the weekend, our mascot Dr. Wiggles (a red wiggler worm) is on hand to explain the finer details of composting and interact with kids. Adults and children alike enjoy smashing their jack-o-lanterns in games such as Tombstone Tipping, Jumpin’ Jack Smash, Pumpkin on a Paddle and the Batting Smash. To discuss the amount of waste diverted from the landfill by the Pumpkin Smash, we convert our measurements into their equivalency in garbage truck loads, a visual that is easily understood. Through the communications around the event and the event itself, the Pumpkin Smash promotes composting to a mainstream audience that wouldn’t otherwise be aware of the benefits of home composting.
Our partnerships with the local media have made it possible for the Pumpkin Smash to reach the wide audience that it does. Sponsorship from a local newspaper and television station generates a vast amount of publicity leading up to the event. As well, each year we invite local media to a launch event where kids or local personalities compete in a “Smash Off”. And during the weekend itself, local radio stations are invited to set up their Community Cruisers and broadcast live.
The Pumpkin Smash is possible due to the support of the GVCEC’s many partners. Our largest partner is a locally-owned chain of grocery stores, Thrifty Foods, which produces communications materials, promotes the event throughout their stores, contributes to our media coverage, and hosts the Pumpkin Smash event at two of their stores. Another local business, DL’s Bins, donates the large compost bins and hauls them away, and a local farm, Michell Farms, accepts the organics. Other local businesses provide equipment for use during the event. The Capital Regional District, our regional government, donates backyard compost bins to be raffled off at the event and provides communications support and core funding to the operations of the GVCEC. These partnerships not only make the Pumpkin Smash the “smashing” success it is, but also contribute to furthering the ongoing promotion of composting in the region and the delivery of composting educational programs.
The public education component of this event incorporates one of the core values of the GVCEC, which recognizes that it is not enough to simply provide people with the means to compost without doing education and follow-up support about how to compost. A study done on a backyard composting project in the City of Brandon, Manitoba, indicates that the long term sustainability of backyard composting is dependent on building comprehensive public engagement strategies designed to change individual behavior and community mind-sets.
To this end, the GVCEC teaches workshops and schools programs on how to compost, has a demonstration site that people can visit to see different forms of composting in action, sells a variety of locally appropriate composting supplies, and operates a telephone hotline to answer composting queries from the public. We also have a compost educator volunteer training program that provides in-depth education and trains a network of volunteers to assist the Centre with all of our programming. At the Pumpkin Smash, GVCEC staff and volunteers are available to answer questions, explain the techniques of backyard and worm bin composting, and hand out written information for people to take home. Due to the popularity and effectiveness of the Pumpkin Smash, there are currently plans to expand it to other communities outside of the region.
Author Caitlyn Vernon is with the Greater Victoria Compost Education Centre in Vancouver.

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