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Garbage Disposal: Do You Really Need One?

Do you really need one?

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.


Top Tips

At home

  • Make less waste. Buy only what you need, in quantities that you can eat before it spoils. It’s easier than trying to find eco-friendly ways to get rid of waste.
  • Compost! As the bumper sticker says, “Compost happens.” Check out these ideas on how to make it happen at your home.
  • Remove the disposal. If your kitchen has a disposal and you don’t want to use it, take it out so it won’t get smelly if any food waste settles there. Removing a garbage disposal is a relatively easy DIY project. If you keep the disposal in place but don’t want to use it, make sure the sink has a strainer basket to catch food scraps before they go down the drain.
  • Or install an aerator. If you decide to keep and use the disposal, you’ll waste less water if you install an aerator on the kitchen faucet.

Other Considerations

  • Garbage disposals also increase the amount of grease that goes down the drain from fatty foods. A buildup of grease causes blockages in home plumbing and municipal sewer lines. Some cities discourage or prohibit garbage disposals for this reason. Garbage disposals also add extra volume to septic tanks. If you have a septic system, having a disposal may increase the size of the tank you need or require you to empty it more often.
  • If you don’t have the space or ability to compost, contact your local elected officials and let them know you support a municipal “green waste” recycling program that accepts food scraps as well as yard waste. San Francisco is one of a growing number of cities that collects its citizens’ green waste. On garbage day, residents put out three bins–for recycling, compostables, and trash. The green waste is taken to a facility where it is turned into rich, black compost that local farmers use to recondition their soil.

Benefits…

…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.


Common Mistakes

Using hot water. Operate a garbage disposal only with cold water. Using hot water wastes water heating energy.


Getting Started

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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14 Responses to “Garbage Disposal: Do You Really Need One?”

  1. Barb Says:

    This is just the information I wanted before the plumber comes to hook up my new sink. Thanks.( The old disposal is going “bye-bye”.)

  2. Sean Says:

    I agree that composting and less waste is the key to the puzzle here. But a Garbage disposal can help with small food waste that sneaks by. The garbage disposal should help avoid clogged sinks!

  3. Nikki Says:

    garbage disposals are so not necessary. compost!!!

  4. Steve Says:

    There’s no way my disposal uses 900 gallons of water a year. I run the disposal about once a day for about 10 seconds as I rinse the sink after discarding as much as possible in our compost bin. Assuming our faucet with an aerator runs at 1.5 gallons per minute, that would be 90 gallons per year. You’d have to run your sink for a long time to use 900 gallons per year even without an aerator. Please check your data.

  5. Trash Compactors for Home Says:

    More and more homes are using trash compactors for home because they vastly reduce the amount of space taken up by trash. You can save money on bags as well as save yourself the effort and amount of trips out to the trash can.

  6. 8 Useful Plumbing Tips that Save Money | Rescue Rooter Atlanta Says:

    [...] via sierraclubgreenhome.com, Source: [...]

  7. Mark Steaven Says:

    Junk Removal is beneficial for us. It helps to keep our environment clean and fresh. We should always separate the garbage like pickles, food, plants,etc. Trash like Plastic items, etc. should be different because it harms our soil and air. Recycling by us really helps a lot to make green our city. Thanks for such a wonderful post.

  8. kelly Says:

    Composting is completely the right way. We should be careful of these things. Take care of old garbage.

  9. Lisa Says:

    If decaying food creates methane (see paragraph 2), then doesn’t composting create methane?

  10. Tyler agent Says:

    Thanks for the post, and even though some people don’t think that getting a good garbage disposal is really worth it. But it’s actually better to spend a little more and get a good one, so you won’t end up throwing money away from having to get it repaired all of the time.

  11. scott Says:

    In todays society when your plate is finished you put everything down the drain. What ever happened to throwing away food scraps in the trash? No amount of draino will fix your waste disposal dependency. I put as much scraps in my yard waste bin. All my oil get poured in an old milk carton then in a trashcan outside. I tend to avoid putting solids in sinks. The consequences are much worse.

  12. Junk Removal Says:

    Very informative article regarding garbage disposals.

  13. Rufus Says:

    To conclude, the above mentioned remedies might
    not be off much help to handle a mold infestation that is way
    too extreme. But, iit could be passed along from person to person.
    Work with a clean washcloth to make the surface dry.

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  14. Susan Says:

    My beautiful city of Seattle collects ALL food and yard waste and turns it into compost. Just remodeled the kitchen sans garbage disposal, face it, they are SO 20th century.


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