Boo! Were you scared? (I didn’t think so.) Maybe this will scare you. The US Department of Energy has pointed its long creepy finger at pumpkins (ooooh…) as a source of methane, a greenhouse gas that has a greater heat trapping effect than CO2. Twenty times greater (ooooh…).

According to DOE, the U.S. grows 1.3 billion pounds of pumpkins each year and most of it ends up in municipal waste. Ghastly, but what happens next is even scarier. If the pumpkins are sent to a landfill their corpses slowly decompose and rot, emitting a foul stench of death and decay. But that’s not the scary part.

Don’t open that door! The pumpkins’ gaseous emissions are 50 percent CO2 and 50 percent methane. The horror. Are you scared now? DOE to the rescue. They turn the lights on and cheerfully point out that pumpkin-containing municipal waste that is sent to a biorefinery could be converted to low-carbon biofuels and something called “biopower”. DOE is partnering with industry to develop two such facilities. Whew.

But generating fuels and power from municipal waste and any unfortunate pumpkins contained therein just means that 100 percent of the carbon is eventually converted to CO2 rather than just 50 percent. That avoids some methane generation, but still puts all of the carbon into the atmosphere. Is there a better way?

How about if we just leave the pumpkins in the landfill?

Seriously. Using an EPA publication titled “Landfill Energy Basics”, I have estimated that pumpkin emissions over a twenty-year period would be equivalent to approximately 10-15 percent of the pumpkins’ original mass, which means that over 85 percent of the pumpkin stays in its crypt (I mean, landfill). That’s called sequestration and it keeps carbon out of the atmosphere. You’re welcome.

I’m sure that the grinches at DOE are already looking forward to the holidays and thinking up ways to link our celebrations to greenhouse gas emissions. I’m planning for the holidays, too. I think that copies of the Landfill Gas Energy Basics handbook will make great stocking stuffers.

Jeff Hazle

Posted by Jeff Hazle

Jeff Hazle is the former Senior Director of Refining Technology for AFPM. To learn more about AFPM, visit AFPM.org.