Disposers are an eco-friendly kitchen appliance.

When you send food waste down a disposer, advanced wastewater treatment facilities turn it into biosolids to be used as fertilizer. (Photo credit: InSinkErator.)

As gas prices climb and drive up the cost of so many things we need to function on a daily basis - from a loaf of bread to the fuel for your fleet - it’s clear that foreign oil alone cannot sustain the U.S. economy. From clean coal, to natural gas, to renewable energy such as wind or hydroelectric, we continue to explore new ways to offset oil dependence. Still, there is no silver bullet capable of resolving our energy needs.

As such, the path toward greater energy independence must be multifaceted, with strategies for energy conservation working alongside those seeking to harness power currently left to go to waste. One source of energy gaining attention that’s been heretofore unrecognized comes from an unlikely place - food scraps.

Elevating Disposers To Mini Energy Producers

Every year, the average household disposes of about a ton of food waste. When trucked to a landfill, this food waste decomposes and releases methane gas into the atmosphere. Not only can those gases be prevented from escaping, they can instead be harnessed to produce energy.

Because food scraps are 70 percent water, it’s easy for disposers to pulverize them and send through the plumbing and sewer system to wastewater treatment facilities, thereby diverting food waste from landfills. Many wastewater treatment plants convert food scraps into renewable energy, saving the plant, municipality and local citizens money. Some plants also process food waste into biosolids, a form of fertilizer used in farm fields, golf courses and home gardens.

However, some of your customers may wonder what we’re doing to our planet in the process. And here’s the answer. PE INTERNATIONAL, a leader in the field of sustainability, recently conducted a life-cycle assessment of the four most common methods of disposing of food waste: sending it to a landfill; composting it; incinerating it; and sending it down the drain via a disposer to a wastewater treatment plant. The manufacturing, use and end-of-life of a disposer also were included in the analysis.

The study concludes that putting food scraps down a disposer and sending them to a wastewater treatment plant results in less global warming potential than sending them to a landfill. And those advanced wastewater treatment plants that make renewable energy and fertilizer can be net energy producers. That’s right, they can make more energy than they use. Some plants make enough to actually sell back to the grid.

In the home, food waste disposers do consume water and energy, but not much. Disposers use less than 1 percent of a household’s total water consumption (less than a gallon per person) and cost, on average, less than 50 cents a year in electricity to operate. That’s a great investment toward renewable energy and reduced carbon emissions!

The Fight For Food Waste

So why doesn’t everyone just turn food scraps into energy? There is a growing tug of war going on over what used to be considered “waste.” Some ambitious communities, in a bid to achieve what is known as “zero waste,” have begun to collect food scraps from residents at the curb. The goal: turn it into compost. To date, there are 56 curbside collection programs in all of the United States, serving 2.7 percent of the population. Why only 2.7 percent? For one, it isn’t cheap. The smell and the “yuck factor” also are frequent complaints of citizens.

If only communities would connect the dots. There’s an easier way that already exists. Food waste ground in a disposer is transported via existing infrastructure. It’s fast and easy, doesn’t smell and people like it. They’ve been using their disposers for nearly 80 years to keep their kitchens cleaner. And now they can use it to help their community and the environment.

Research tells us consumers want to do what’s right for the environment, as evidenced by the success of recycling and the demand for energy-efficient appliances. But people are compliant only when it’s practical. And not just from an environmental standpoint; it has to make sense for their households and their wallets.

The reality is that food waste disposers make for a more efficient, hygienic kitchen while potentially saving municipalities (and even taxpayers) money. Regardless of whether your customers’ municipality can convert food waste to energy, it’s important for them to understand that disposers help divert food waste from landfills, ultimately reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Using a disposer is a simple, effective way to make a big difference.

Addressing Lifestyle Needs

In addition to sustainable home solutions, plumbers are expected to recommend products that address lifestyle needs. Disposers have come a long way from their low-tech, utilitarian roots. Throughout the years, food waste disposer design and technology has kept pace with changing consumer preferences.

Modern units handle more volume, more foods and more challenges. Be sure to ask your customers questions that enable you to recommend the best disposer for their kitchen layout and routine. Keep in mind the most common requests professionals hear from homeowners is they want their disposer to grind more food waste and to do so with less noise.