A garbage disposal is a common feature in many homes. We didn’t have one when I was growing up (caused too many clogs and was removed, as I understand it), but my husband had one, and still loves to use it. They seem like a nice way to cut down on the food waste you throw in the garbage. But are garbage disposals environmentally friendly?
Depends. What Are You Comparing Them To?
When it comes to being eco friendly, a garbage disposal can’t really compare to composting. Composting is a much better option if it’s available to you. There are a variety of ways to make composting easier, such as keeping a container available for food scraps in the kitchen, and dumping it into an outdoor compost bin when it gets full enough or it’s just convenient. You can buy a container for the purpose, or just use an old coffee can or something similar for it.
Bokashi composting systems can work indoors. They can be easier to deal with than with systems that rely on worms. Bokashi composting is anaerobic, and should not stink, making it a good choice if you can’t compost outside.
Of course, composting correctly takes some effort, and you can have problems if you don’t manage your compost correctly. But done right, it’s a wonderful, effective choice.
Using a garbage disposal can’t really compare to these options. It takes power and water to make a garbage disposal work. Sometimes they clog, and that can be a huge mess.
Better Than Throwing Food In The Trash?
Food waste makes up a fair part of municipal waste, about 13.9% before recycling, according to EPA.gov (2010 data). That’s pretty significant.
According to Insinkerator, an average household garbage disposal costs about $0.50 a year in electricity to operate, and makes up less than 1% of that household’s water consumption. By sending food waste down the drain, it goes to the wastewater plant rather than to the landfill, and may (depending on the wastewater plant) be a part of the plant’s energy generation as methane gas. Biosolids from wastewater may be used as fertilizer. The Insinkerator website has links to studies showing how environmentally effective garbage disposals can be. Hauling food waste to the landfill is, unsurprisingly, not a very environmentally friendly way to handle it.
Of course, in some places that less than 1% of household water consumption may not be something you’re willing to spare. There are plenty of places where you really want to think about how much water you’re using. If that’s too much, composting really is going to be your best bet. As usual.
What About Clogs?
The one problem I sometimes have with the garbage disposal is that it clogs up sometimes. Usually in some way my own fault. There was the time I sent too many cucumber peels down at once – my disposal didn’t chew them up much at all! They just slid on through and collected in the pipe just below. Fortunately, it was easily cleaned up by hand. I just had to unscrew the couplings on the pipes and pull them out. A gross, stinky job, but no harsh chemicals needed, just a bucket under the pipes to catch the water and mess.
You need to be careful about how much you put through your garbage disposal. Mine is bottom of the line – we had a plumber comment that he didn’t know that brand made them that low a horsepower. That’s rental homes for you. But even more powerful garbage disposals can only handle so much at once. Make sure you’re giving everything enough time to get through.
Also don’t put anything greasy down the drain if you can help it. Grease doesn’t just clog your pipes; it encourages clogs further down the line.
All in all, while your garbage disposal isn’t your most eco friendly option, it’s possible that it isn’t too bad, especially depending on the alternatives available to you. Take a look and dispose of your food waste the as best you can.