Garbage disposals seem like the ultimate convenience–drop your banana peels, pizza crusts, and other leftovers down the drain, turn on the tap, flip a switch, and away they go. Problem is, when it comes to waste, whether it’s food or anything else, there is no away. Any “waste” that can’t be put back to use–either through reuse, recycling, or composting–becomes pollution that’s expensive to deal with and takes its toll on the environment.
Garbage disposals do keep food scraps out of landfills. That’s important because when materials like food, paper, or plant waste decompose in landfills, they produce methane, a greenhouse gas that is 23 times more potent than CO2. But garbage disposals don’t really solve the waste problem; they shift it to wastewater treatment systems instead. Food waste in wastewater increases levels of nutrients like nitrogen, which are great when added to the soil but harmful in our waterways. To deal with excess nutrients, municipal water utilities have to add expensive systems to their treatment plants.
Moreover, it takes resources for your disposal to send your food scraps on that unnecessary journey. It doesn’t require much energy, but in a year’s time you’ll be sending more than 900 gallons of water down the drain. “Waste,” as green architect William McDonough likes to say, “is basically stupid.” The greenest way to deal with food scraps is to compost them and nourish plants with the nutrient-rich results.
…to your health
Not having a garbage disposal will make your house a little quieter. If the kitchen is used by a person in a wheelchair, it may also improve accessibility by keeping the space under the sink clear so that the wheelchair user can scoot in closer.
…to your wallet
You can save the $60 to $300 purchase price of a garbage disposal by not having one, or not replacing it when it breaks down. Don’t expect big energy savings, though. Running a ¾-horsepower unit for one minute a day costs less than a dollar a year.
…to the Earth
Sending 900 gallons of water down the drain every year seems more than a little silly. The U.S. Government Accountability Office reports that water managers in 36 states expect water shortages in the next 10 years, even under normal, non-drought conditions.
Using hot water. Operate a garbage disposal only with cold water. Using hot water wastes water heating energy.
Reduce your food waste and start composting. If your old garbage disposal breaks, try living without one. Once you break the grinding habit, you may find you never miss it.
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