Young girl carving pumpkin

Artificial pumpkins are a poor substitute for the real thing

Fake pumpkins are more trick than treat. They trick you out of the most enjoyable thing about Halloween – and they trick us into using more polluting plastic.
By Phil Byrne    |      18 Sep 2018    |      8 min

Scared of artificial pumpkins?

I'm terrified of them. When you throw them away, they don't harmlessly disappear from our lives. The plastic in them may break down but it haunts our soils and oceans for at least hundreds of years. True to their sinister nature – like Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees – fake pumpkins just don't die.

Coming up: the chilling truth about pumpkin waste and how to enjoy the insides. But before you go on, please sign our petition to help end the horror of tiny plastics creeping from our clothes into the food chain. Thank you.

Artificial pumpkins are all tack and no taste

Halloween is a much bigger deal in the UK than when I was a child.

I don't remember acknowledging it until I was 16 – and that was only because my mate thought we could use trick or treat to raise cash for alcopops, or at least bag some free chocolate.

My neighbours weren’t feeling generous. I can’t really blame them. What would you do if a couple of teenagers turned up on your doorstep, making lacklustre ghost sounds, without a costume?

Maybe they'd have parted with the goods if we'd made even the slightest effort. Something pathetic enough to appeal to our apathy but still on brand – like a cheap plastic pumpkin.

We didn’t get Halloween. We hadn’t grown up with pumpkin pie, garish costumes and macabre-themed parties. We had no idea how addictive it can be to carve creepy designs into a big orange fruit – or how comforting the often-discarded insides are in baking and cooking. And yes, a pumpkin is a fruit.

3 pumpkins with artistic carved faces on show at the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival 2011
Pumpkin art at the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival 2011
Credit: Bob n Renee (CC BY 2.0)

Perhaps the people who make artificial pumpkins don’t get Halloween either. Maybe they think we don't want to agonise over the roundest pumpkin in the shop. Maybe they think we're bored of trying to out-spook each other. And maybe they really do believe we're burdened by Halloween carving parties and pumpkin pizza.

Why else would they substitute all the drama that goes with carving a real pumpkin for such a sterile imitation? Makes you wonder what's next on their joy-dismantling list – plastic goldfish? (No need to change the water or feed them).

Here's another thought. Maybe they don't get all the plastic pollution their products are causing either.

Want to know something genuinely scary?

Most of the plastic that's ever been made still exists in the environment today. It isn't likely to disappear anytime soon either.

Programmes like David Attenborough's Blue Planet have shown that plastic pollution is a danger to our wildlife. And scientists have now discovered that plastic items are breaking down into tiny bits that can get into our oceans and even end up in our bodies.

Does it sound like you're watching a sci-fi horror? This is the moment when you beg the soon-to-be victim not to walk into the strange dark house. Except I'm imploring you not to buy plastic pumpkins.

Scary Halloween pumpkin on grass and autumn leaves gnashing teeth with cigar in mouth.
I mean, why wouldn't you carve a Halloween pumpkin complete with cigar?
Credit: istock

You'd think that with all the plastic waste going into the sea, retailers would be looking to stem the tide – not making synthetic imitations of stuff that naturally exists.

Retailers follow the money. So it makes sense to stop buying these products. Some of them, though, are more difficult to cut out of our lives than others. Like clothes. Most of them are shedding plastic waste. In this case, you can sign our petition and we promise to make your voice heard.

Keep it real – but don't waste your pumpkin

Not buying plastic pumpkins is good for the planet. But are real pumpkins sustainable?

The UK is being massively wasteful when it comes to pumpkins. We're throwing them away when we could be eating them.

The UK bins 18,000 tonnes of edible pumpkin every Halloween – according to research from the Pumpkin Rescue campaign. That's the same weight as 1,500 double decker buses.

Here are our top tips for getting the most out of your pumpkin.

1. Start from seed and grow your own pumpkin

If you're not sure how, try these fantastic tips for growing your own pumpkin in your garden or allotment in the Spring.

What about planting a few Jack be Little, or some Baby Pam and Baby Bear? This sweet selection of squash will make for a tasty pumpkin patch.

2. Buy the perfect pumpkin

If you're buying, ask in the shop for a tasty and tough pumpkin.

Large piles of pumpkins of different colours with people standing around.
That's a lot of pumpkins.
Credit: istock

Why not buy from your local market or producer? They will probably have a bigger range of these beauties.

3. Scoop out as much as you can – and store it

Pumpkins last for a long time if you store them properly. Keep them out of direct sunlight and away from wooden surfaces.

Buying for Halloween? Your Jack-o'-lantern is full of tasty insides. Before carving, scoop out all the seeds and get out as much pumpkin flesh as you can with a large serving spoon.

Pumpkin seeds are a really tasty addition to soups and salads. Soak them in salted water for a couple of hours to get all the flesh off. Then dry them out or roast them before storing in an airtight container.

Fresh pumpkin will keep in the fridge for around 3 days. Frozen, it will last up to 8 months.

4. Make a delicious meal: easy pumpkin recipes

Pumpkins are so versatile in the kitchen.

They make a great base for warming winter soups. You can also roast them for your Sunday dinner. Pumpkin pie is pretty tasty too. Keep this easy pie recipe on hand next Halloween.

Sweet pumpkin puree goes down well with younger kids. More-adventurous eaters might want to tackle a pumpkin curry – like Jamie Oliver's bonfire night curry. It's dairy and gluten free.

Pumpkin gnocchi is also a thing. Need more inspiration? These 30 recipes will get you started.

5. Compost your pumpkin

Put your pumpkin remains in your compost bin. Here are some tips on keeping your food-waste bin free from horrible smells.

Pumpkin facts for Halloween

Ever wondered why we buy pumpkins at Halloween? Or wanted to know a bit more about where pumpkins come from? We've got you covered.

1. Halloween began around 2,000 years ago in Europe

It started as a celebration of the end of the harvest. But it wasn't named Halloween until the Christian tradition of praying for the dead on 'All Hallows' day became widespread. That day was 1 November – and it led to the 31 of October becoming known as 'All Hallows Eve'.

2. We didn't always carve pumpkins at Halloween

In the past it was more common to use a turnip or potato.

3. Each pumpkin has about 500 seeds

They're high in iron, and can be roasted to eat. The flowers that grow on pumpkin vines are also edible.

4. Pumpkins used to be known as "large melons"

The first modern reference to a pumpkin came in the 17th century, when the fairy-tale Cinderella featured a large pumpkin that became an elegant coach.

5. The largest pumpkin pie ever baked weighed 2,020 pounds.

When pumpkin pie was first made, it involved cutting off the tops of pumpkins, removing the seeds and filling the pumpkins with milk, spices and honey, then baking them in hot ashes.