Green Living

Are garbage disposals eco-friendly?

Even if you don’t compost, it’s better to scrape food waste into the trash.
Are garbage disposals eco-friendly?
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Disposals expand your “cookprint,” the entire chain of resources used to create and prepare food — from the farmer to the processing/ manufacturing plant, shipment to market, fuel and energy to preserve and cook, and finally waste sent to landfills.

Cookprint size: Disposals use electricity and water to grind up soft foods. This chewed up matter travels, with water from your tap, to a wastewater plant. The wastewater there is then treated, processed, and filtered, consuming more fuel and water. The sludge from the filtered water goes usually on a truck to a landfill, burning transportation fuel and creating occaemissions. All this just to remove a few table scraps from your home.

Greener options: Build a compost pile instead of using your disposal. Use a ceramic jar to store kitchen waste—from coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable waste, even paper items like tea bags and coffee filters. (Don’t use meats or bones as these attract dangerous bacteria.) When your jar fills up, toss the refuse onto your outdoor compost pile. Even if you don’t compost, it’s better to scrape your plates into the trash as this cuts down on the journey from home to treatment plant to landfill.

Save what you eat: You can further reduce your “cookprint” by cutting down the amount of food you throw away. For instance, place non-composting material, like meat bones, and edible scraps, such as vegetable trimmings (ends of carrots, celery and onion skins) and shrimp shells into separate freezer bags and build up ingredients that can be the makings for stocks or soup/sauce flavor enhancers.

Disposing of your disposal: You don’t have to get rid of your disposal to be greener. Just stop using it. A simple wire mesh strainer keeps small particles from going down the drain. You may need to run it periodically to remove any smelly trapped debris. If you’d rather remove it (either hire a plumber or do it yourself), ask your city’s waste department how to best dispose of your disposal. They might accept it for recycling. —Kate Heyhoe, author of Cooking Green: Reducing Your Carbon Footprint in the Kitchen— The New Green Basics Way