Garbage disposers save water and energy, as well as reduce waste in our landfills.

I recently attended a symposium sponsored by In-Sink-Erator. You may be thinking it was a two-day commercial on food waste grinders, otherwise known as garbage disposers. It wasn’t. Quite the opposite.

The symposium was a meeting of some of the top minds in the country on food waste, recycling, landfill management, biogas and biosolids. As you can see, the first thing I had to do was learn some new terms.

These top researchers, engineers, scientists and college professors made a number of presentations with numbers that would blow your mind. While most people don't care what happens to garbage once it gets thrown out, these are the folks that deal with someone else's garbage on a daily basis.

One statistic that seemed to be repeated was how much food waste is generated per person everyday. Food waste is that term used to describe the garbage from preparing the meals we eat. That could be the peels from the potatoes to the fat we cut off the meat. In addition, it is all the food that we throw out.

The amount that caught my attention was a half-pound of food waste per person per day. That translates to almost 90,000 tons of food waste (garbage) per day. Most of that ends up in a landfill. A small percentage goes down the garbage disposer. However, in some parts of the country, a large percentage goes down the garbage disposer.

I also learned that 70 percent of food waste is liquid. So when it goes to the landfill, it can contaminate the water source or pose other problems.

The one thing everyone agreed with at the symposium is we should stop filling our landfills with food waste. One person jokingly said, “Perhaps we should hand out garbage disposers.”

The more I listened, the more that joke started to make sense. 

Garbage Disposers Are Green

It is somewhat interesting that many people consider a garbage disposer to waste energy and water. In other words, it's not a green product. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

As one speaker indicated, by throwing food waste down the garbage disposer, at the other end we are getting water, soil and energy. This really sounded fascinating.

The food waste is clean waste, not waste that has been through our bodies, like the other waste in a drain, waste and vent system. It helps the treatment process at a sewage treatment facility if it is captured in the first treatment process. The food waste helps to convert the solid waste to biogas, which is gas produced by the breakdown of organic matter in the absence of oxygen. This biogas is methane or natural gas.

The natural gas can be used to fuel the water treatment plant. The biogas produces anywhere from two to 10 times more than the energy needed to operate a treatment plant. The variation depends on which study you look at and the quality of the energy conversion systems at the treatment plant.

This treatment process produces biosolids, which is basically dirt. However, it is nutrient-rich dirt from a wastewater treatment plant. Many people thumb their noses at biosolids but, as it turns out, this is great stuff. It will keep your lawn green like you wouldn’t believe.

One speaker noted that most people have no problem adding cow manure to their gardens but would never think of adding biosolids. However, biosolids are safer and more refined than cow manure. So why the aversion?

Back to the garbage disposers. One of the leading recycling advocates was asked what his group thought of garbage disposers. He commented that some think that garbage disposers make recycling too easy. That sounded funny, but then again, many believe that recycling should be a chore that requires effort.

The other option for recycling food waste is a separate garbage can that you empty into the compost pile in the backyard. The problem is that the compost pile will smell and greenhouse gases are not collected.

Educating Consumers

A professor then asked one of the engineers from In-Sink-Erator what they could throw down a garbage disposer. Any food waste, he responded. This surprised some who thought there were limitations to the types of food waste you can grind. There were discussions about putting turkey bones down the disposer, corn husks, etc.

As the engineer explained, the American public has asked for better and better food waste disposers. The manufacturers have responded by producing better products that grind the waste more finely. This allows anything to go down the drain and minimizes the possibility of any stoppages.

By the end of the symposium, it became clear that we need to throw all food waste down the drain. We also need to better educate the public on how to use a food waste disposer, including what can go down the disposer. That way, the food waste can be converted to energy and good dirt. The water will be treated and recycled into rivers and creeks.

The last thing we need is adding food waste to landfills. Which brings me back to the original question, “Should we be mandating food waste disposers in the plumbing codes?”

It certainly doesn’t sound like a bad idea. If we really want to be green, we need to install disposers and make sure the public uses them properly. Perhaps the plumbing code bodies should take a more serious look at mandating disposers. After all, we already mandate many water-conserving and energy-conserving measures in the code.

Since food waste disposers equal water, soil and energy, mandating them seems to be the next logical step. In the meantime, be sure to offer food waste grinders to all of your customers. They are ideal for convenience, energy savings, water savings and landfill reduction.