Garbage disposals offer a convenient food scrap disposal method, but they may not present an ideal solution to the food waste management problem. The use of in-sink kitchen garbage disposals is actually a hotly debated topic among disposal industry leaders and environmentalists, and some cities even ban their use due to environmental concerns. Thus, there is a long list of pros and cons to consider when deciding whether to install one.

Garbage disposals reduce bacteria and odors

In addition to the convenience factor, proponents of garbage disposals claim other benefits, including a reduction of odors and bacteria that would otherwise build up in indoor trash cans. They claim a green advantage, too, contending that disposals protect the environment: keeping food out of the trash curtails non-biodegradable garbage bag use and reduces resources needed to transport and process waste. Garbage disposals also cut down on organic material—which generates methane, a dangerous, especially potent greenhouse gas—in landfills.

While in-sink garbage disposals may address some of the environmental threats associated with waste management, they can create other problems. The average garbage disposal uses about 900 gallons of water each year—not an insignificant amount considering our progressively diminishing water supply. And disposals introduce harmful levels of certain nutrients into wastewater, requiring expensive, energy-intensive water treatment technologies. Although some wastewater treatment plants use the extracted waste to generate energy or make fertilizer, much of this food waste is sent to landfills, negating one proposed benefit of disposals.

Garbage disposals are also responsible for many in-home and municipal plumbing blockages, another costly downside that often leads to expensive repair bills. But even before considering potential maintenance issues, many homeowners are turned off by the price of purchasing and installing a disposal, which can run hundreds of dollars.

In general, composting food scraps is the most environmentally friendly option, and one that is feasible for most people. Even if limited space makes traditional outdoor composting systems impractical, indoor composting kits and simple DIY setups allow almost anyone to compost and reuse food scraps. Some cities even offer curbside compost pickup in addition to traditional trash and recycling collection.

How to save energy with a garbage disposal

If you decide to install a new garbage disposal, save on energy by using cold water when you run it and reduce water consumption with a faucet aerator. To prevent blockages, never use the disposal to get rid of fatty food waste. It’s also a good idea to hire a licensed contractor to do the job safely, since garbage disposal installation involves plumbing and electrical work. If you already have an in-sink garbage disposal that you’d like to stop using, your best bet for avoiding odors from trapped food is to have the disposal removed. If that’s not an option, use a strainer basket to catch food bits before they go down the drain.

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