Are garbage disposals environmentally friendly? The answer to the question depends on who you ask. Some say that garbage disposals are environmentally friendly, they decrease the amount of food waste going to landfills. But others insist on that they create more environmental issues than they solve. Here is a short overview of environmental impact of garbage disposers.
It is far from easy to estimate the environmental impact of garbage disposers. This one of the reasons why you find so many different opinions about garbage disposers. The main advantage of using garbage disposals is to use the sewer system to transport food waste to a waste water treatment plant. The garbage disposal shreds food waste into small particles that can be transported via the sewer system to a waste water treatment plant rather than to landfill. Food waste in landfills creates a number of environmental problems.
One of the main problems is that the waste water treatment plants need to convert the food waste into biogas. This can be done by modern waste water treatment plants. Unfortunately, far from every waste water treatment plant is capable of converting food waste into biogas. And those which lack the capability are far from happy with having to deal with food waste. Waste disposers also put some extra strain on the sewer system. This is one of the main reasons why some cities from time to time have banned garbage disposals. The most well-known ban was in New York which was lifted in 1997, the reason for the ban was that the pipes in many older buildings could not handle the additional strain added by garbage disposals.
In Europe, some places have started to encourage the installation of garbage disposals. By letting waste water treatment plants convert the food waste into useful biogas the strain on landfills is reduced. This works fine in Europe, but it is worth noting that this solution requires modern waste water treatment plants.
Those against garbage disposers include a number of different people. As mentioned earlier, owners of waste water treatment plants that are not capable of converting food waste into biogas don’t like garbage disposers. They have to get rid of the food waste somehow. Others have, correctly, pointed out that composting is a much more environmentally friendly way of getting rid of food waste. Unfortunately, that is not a feasible solution in cities. A more serious complaint is that waste disposers use power and water, is really the added water and power consumption offset by the garbage disposer function of moving the food waste into waste water treatments plants instead of landfills? No clear answer exists to this question at the moment.
It is not always easy to known what figures one should believe. In a Swedish study about food waste, households, were the biggest contributor of food waste. Their ratio of the total food waste in Sweden in 2010 was 67%. The study went further and divided these 67% into two categories, unnecessary waste and unavoidable waste. The first category made up 35% of the food waste in an average household. It is made up of fruit, vegetables, bread and other food that has not been used at all. It was excess food that was that should not have been bought in the first place. The unavoidable food waste is made up of banana peels, potato peels and other waste that can’t be eaten. In study, restaurants accounted for 10% of the total food waste, supermarkets for 4% and the food industry for 17%. The remaining food waste came from schools and hospitals. According to the study 72 kg of food was thrown away annually per person. Compared with studies in the US, the numbers are significantly different in this Swedish study. One reason is the different consumer and food habits in the US and Sweden but part of the problem is that it is difficult to analyze who puts what into the rubbish.