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    Calling Bullshit on Philly’s Sustainable Garbage Disposals: Greenwashing PR?

    are garbage disposals a green option for philadelphia?Mayor Michael Nutter & the Philadelphia Streets Department announced a new program, “Clean Kitchen, Green Community” campaign today. The goal is to “assess how food waste disposers can help the city work towards its goal of becoming the greenest city of America.”

    Residents in Point Breeze and West Oak Lane are going to participate in a test campaign to measure the amount of waste diverted from landfills by using a garbage disposal. InSinkErator, the world’s “leading manufacturer of food waste disposals” is partnering with the city to provide 100 homeowners in each neighborhood with a free disposal & installation by a local plumber.

    I call Bullshit.

    The average household uses 700 gallons per year JUST to push food down the drain with a garbage disposal.

    Mayor Nutter. City of Philadelphia Streets Department. If we’re trying got be the “greenest city”, we should implement a composting program to get rid of those darn food scraps.  Bennett Compost and Philly Compost are two local businesses that cost $15 per month to pick up your compost at your door.  I have a feeling we could put the money we’re using for this ‘experimental’ program to subsidize the Philly Composting costs.

    So what’s the deal with composting VS garbage disposals?

    According to InSinkErator (via Treehugger)70% of food scraps are water, but some of the remaining 30% are solids that are screened out at the entrance to your waste water treatment plant. But the remaining food scraps don’t instantly dissolve.  In most cases this material is still sent to landfill, where it decomposes without oxygen and creates methane (potent greenhouse gas). Essentially, this method requires more treatment (read: energy and chemicals) to get rid of the food scraps. Also, although garbage disposals create the potential to generate more bio-gas fueled electricity, we’re not seeing an increase of bio-gas generators at wastewater treatment plants.

    Many European countries have banned garbage disposals to encourage organic waste. Garbage disposals use more water, and studies have said the eutrophic impact of the disposal is 3 x’s larger than sending it to a landfill. (Many pro-disposal studies are sponsored by interested corporations…like InSinkErator.)

    Additionally, food waste build up in pipes and increases clogs (especially with unsaturated fats/oils/grease.) Blockages cause approximately 75% of sewer overflows – for example, costing $3.5 million per year.


    Composting is a REAL green alternative...

    Composting is a natural alternative and creates wonders for gardens. You can compost food scraps, leaves, and other natural waste in the comfort of your home.

    But I get it. Home composting isn’t the most convenient option for urban cities.  As Treehugger points out in their “Is My In-Sink Garbage Disposal Eco-Friendly” post, there are indoor automatic composters that are more ideal for urbanites. Tiny yet efficient, this little Worm Factory Compost Bin is a great alternative for urbanites. Why can’t we provide residents with these instead?

    I’ll admit: food waste is a problem. 40% of food produced in the US is wasted, and most trashed food goes STRAIGHT to landfills.  We need to divert this trash from landfills. And yes, I personally have a garbage disposal in my house. But if we’re trying to be green, like actually green, we should go the whole length.  Let’s not take shortcuts a la greenwashing PR to “look” like the greenest city in America. Let’s actually BE the greenest city in America.


    Photos: Sierra Club & Do It Yourself

    Julie Hancher

    About Julie Hancher

    Julie Hancher is Editor-in-Chief of Green Philly, sharing her expertise of all things sustainable in the city of brotherly love. She enjoys long walks in the park with local beer and greening her travels, cooking & cat, Sir Floofus Drake.

    Your thoughts . . .

    • I received that same press release and emailed back to ask how “garbage disposals compliment composting” and how they reduce waste. I was actually genuinely curious. He never wrote back.

    • Interesting Paige… Unfortunately I have a feeling this is a little more corporately sponsored VS looking for the best solution… Let me know if you do hear anything further!

    • Ben Edgson

      They should ban garbage disposals altogether. I’m from England but have been living in America for the last 4 years and it’s amazing just how much goes down there! I used to install small domestic sewage treatment plants in the UK and if we used garbage disposals they would have never been 100% effective!! Composting all the way!!!!

    • http://oydeals.com/insinkerator-evolution-excel-disposer/ is also related to garbage disposals.

    • Chris

      The logic is not solid here, nor is it supported by facts. Transporting food waste to a compost facility requires vehicles, which mostly emit CO2. The transport of the food through the sewage pipelines would mean less trucks hauling of, as you point out, mostly water. The majority of food is imported to Philly and the nutrients recovered from composting aren’t going to be consumed by the needs of the city; and even if it can be put to use it’s not closing the one-way nutrient flows associated with the vast majority of food consumed by Americans. I’m not sure about the Philly WWTP, but many WWTPs have anaerobic digestors which produce CH4 (natural gas), which can be combusted to generate electricity. The conclusion about the “better” option requires a waaaay more complex analysis than the one you’ve put forth here. I research organic/food waste diversion and I’m an expert in life cycle assessment (have a doctorate in the area) and so far, I think that the garbage disposal idea could be a really good solution for food waste management. Some bugs may need to be worked out and hopefully the amount of food waste generated will be reduced considerably. I don’t understand why people think that composting is some kind of magical panacea, it’s not, and if it’s not done 100% correctly there could be significant greenhouse gas emissions.

      One last note, it’s worth asking whether it’s appropriate to place the burden of waste management on individuals by asking them to home compost…in a dense urban environment, with fairly high poverty rates (sure, add on compost care to my 2 jobs to which I commute via SEPTA)…there are reasons that humanity centralizes some functions in urban spaces. Home composting is demonstrably more likely to be done improperly and results in methane emissions.