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Are Garbage Disposals Green?

Every day, a variety of things pass through our hands, and we have to decide what to do: recycle it, throw it away, or send it down the drain. 

The cardboard box from your favorite cereal can be recycled. 

The leftover bones from dinner should be thrown away. 

Are Garbage Disposals Green?But what about the leftover vegetables and mashed potatoes you scrape from your plate? Is it better putting them in your trash, which will eventually be brought to the landfill? Or is it better grinding it up with your garbage disposal and sending it down the drain?

The garbage disposal debate has been going on for more than a decade. And in parts of the world – most of Europe – garbage disposals have been banned from use. While places like New York City have had an off again/on again relationship with the handy kitchen appliance, other cities have also experimented with banning garbage disposals in new construction. 

What’s the problem with garbage disposals? 

It’s not the garbage disposal; it’s what we send through it that is in question. 

When we have waste in our kitchen, we have three choices to dispose of it: throw it away, use the garbage disposal, or compost. While there are a number of composters for modern, urban living, in general, if we’re in the city, we don’t have the time or capabilities of using a composter on a regular basis. Which leaves us with two choices. 

Roughly one-third of our food supply is thrown away each year. That equates to over 1.3 billion tons of food we have to dispose of. 

If we truck food waste to a landfill, it’s incinerated and generates emissions. If it’s not incinerated, it’s buried underground where it quickly decomposes and produces methane, a gas contributing to the greenhouse effect.

So what about food waste water? About 70 percent of the food scraps you send down are water-based and are easily broken down. That leaves 30 percent that aren’t. And that’s where the problems lie. 

When that 30 percent reaches the waste water treatment plant, it can’t be broken down. In most cases, it is then trucked to a landfill where it starts the decomposition process. 

It’s this 30 percent that causes problems with the waste water management process as well. This percentage includes things like unsaturated fats, which solidify when brought back to room temperature. And as they solidify in your pipes, that’s where the problems begin. Utility companies across the US spend millions every year responding to grease-related blockages. 

Are garbage disposals the best way to get rid of unwanted food? If you want the greenest approach, composting is best. But if you use your garbage disposal in the way it was intended and avoid sending down grease and fats, it can do a pretty good job of breaking down food waste and moving it through the system. 

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