UNION COUNTY, NJ - Union County residents are being asked to 'Smash It, Don't Trash It' when finished with their Halloween pumpkins this year.  Locals are invited to bring their Jack o’ Lanterns to area drop-off centers for the UC Pumpkin Recycling Program. Pumpkins will be collected and brought to an organic waste recycler in Elizabeth, where they will be transformed into green energy.

“The Pumpkin Recycling Program is an easy, convenient way for Union County residents to support the renewable energy industry, which creates new jobs and helps improve the health and well-being of our communities,” said Freeholder Chairman Alexander Mirabella. “We hope the #SmashItDontTrashIt campaign boosts public awareness about new opportunities for keeping food waste from going to waste.”

Two locations will be available for residents to drop off their pumpkins, each day from Monday, November 2 through Friday, November 6.  Each location is open from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.  Both locations are available to all Union County residents:

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— 151 Boulevard in Cranford (the County Emergency Services Yard)

— 1300 Lamberts Mill Road (the Westfield Conservation Center)

Officials said only pumpkins will be accepted at these locations; other food waste is not accepted. Candles and decorations must be removed.

Residents are advised to wear masks and observe social distance when dropping off their pumpkins.

The pumpkins will be processed at  the Waste Management facility in Elizabeth. According to organizer's the company’s proprietary recycling system converts food waste into an organic slurry, which is used to increase the output of biogas and other renewable products at municipal wastewater treatment plants.

Food waste is a global problem that contributes to excess greenhouse gas emissions while burdening local governments with waste disposal costs. In the U.S. alone, more than 52 million tons of food are displaced in the U.S. each year according to some estimates.

Traditionally, food waste is sent to landfills or burned in waste-to-energy facilities. New organic recycling systems provide a more sustainable way to manage food waste.

Union County officials remind residents they can help reduce food waste by using up leftovers and donating unused shelf items before their sell-by date expires.