Is Your Garbage Disposal More Trouble Than It’s Worth?

Do you have a garbage disposal in your kitchen sink? Does it seem like you’re not supposed to put anything in it? We all know that despite its name, you’re not supposed to put paper and plastic and wrappers and other junk down there. Obviously.

But even when it comes to food scraps, the intended purpose of a garbage disposal, it seems like they can handle almost nothing that isn’t liquified. There are a few other rules of thumb.

  1. If you can’t cut it with a knife, don’t put it down your disposal.
  2. No part of stringy vegetables; celery, asparagus, rhubarb, etc., should go in a disposal.
  3. If it absorbs water, it’s a no; bread, rice, pasta, or coffee grounds will clump, and therefore clog.
  4. Grease and cooking oils are a definite “no” for the garbage disposal and sinks in general because they coagulate and plug it up. Run as much hot water through the pipes as you want, but grease, and any solid bits you send down the disposal will still collect in the bend of the pipes under the sink and will not be moved. Not without a serious round of Drano or its equivalent.  Have a container in a safe place in the kitchen where you can collect grease from each meal preparation. Eventually you’ll need to dispose of that grease though.  You can’t put it in the sink, the toilet either, but you can put it in a sealed container and put it in the garbage, because if you just dump grease directly into your garbage, there is always the risk of static in the garbage bag creating a spark and igniting the grease.

While some of these are no-brainers, with all of the limitations on what it can be used for, people often feel garbage disposals are kind of pointless. Kind of like washing your dishes before you put them in the dishwasher. Maddening.

Holidays seem to be the most likely time for sinks to get particularly inundated with food scraps leading to a higher likelihood of drain backup. So if you are hosting parties during any of the holidays scattered throughout the summer, or graduation parties, birthdays, wedding receptions or family reunion in your home, you will want to avoid a foul-smelling sludge from gurgling up in your kitchen sink. Especially while you have guests, and especially-especially after they leave when all you want to do is clean up and then sit down and relax.

If you happen to live in an apartment, this is especially important to know, because everything you put in those pipes can and very likely will affect the rest of the building. Apartment plumbing can be funny that way. But it’s not funny. And what’s really not funny is that just like your disposals can affect everyone else, theirs can affect you. And you can’t do anything about it, nor do you even know it’s happening until you’ve got a gurgling kitchen sink.

Though according to a 2020 census over half of American homes still had a garbage disposal system, people are increasingly looking for alternate methods of food scrap disposal. These are just a few options:

1. Composting Garbage disposals. You put your scraps down the sink but instead of going into the pipes they go into a self-sealing compost box under your sink. You empty it every 2-4 weeks and it eliminates 80% of the waste.

2. Indoor compost box. You can’t put grease in them, but they can be a great way to dispose of food scraps, especially organic materials from fruits and vegetables (skins, pits, stems, etc.) and use them later in your garden to create more food! It’s recycling at its most efficient best. The boxes have an air-tight lid to seal in the odor, and a bag of bran that you sprinkle over the compost to further contain the odor and assist in the fermentation process.

3. Vermicomposting. Simply put, vermicomposting is a process whereby your food scraps are fed to worms which in turn, transform them into lawn or garden fertilizing manure. It’s very much like traditional farming, just on a much smaller, non-bovine scale.

4. Solar powered food waste digesters. The best thing about these is you can put any type of food you wish in it, in larger quantities than you ever would have dreamed of putting down your garbage disposal. Up to two pounds of food per day, and it absorbs 90% of it into the soil beneath it. You place it in a sunny spot in your yard and natural processes take care of the rest over time. The heat from the sun speeds up the process. Digesters do not make compost.

5. Sink strainer. Many kitchen sinks come with them, but not always. Some have small holes that will still let bits of leftover food through. But some are more like a net which you can then easily pop out and empty into your garbage can. That’s the one you want.

These choices may help you avoid one of the more irksome biproducts of the fun-and-sun summertime gatherings, the festivals of food that we all value so much this time of year. Enjoy! Eat well! Feed your friends, family and neighbors! Well, make them pitch in a little. I mean, come on… But then sit down and watch TV with your kitchen pipes flowing in the intended direction.

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