Ban on Garbage Disposals? Really?

water splashIn a move that had many residents bewildered, the Raleigh, North Carolina, city council voted to ban garbage disposals in all new construction and to prohibit residents from replacing broken garbage disposals. The ordinance, which took effect this week, has its roots in over 100 large sewage spillovers in the last three years within the city of Raleigh. The cost of such cleanups and the threatened fines from state agencies forced the council to implement the ban. What’s the connection between garbage disposals and sewage spillovers? Grease. The city’s sewage system builds up with grease until the pipes need to be cleaned out with a special truck – or a spillover occurs. Reduce the amount of food and grease going down kitchen sinks, so the Raleigh city council believes, and you reduce the costly cleanups.

Though Raleigh mayor Charles Meeker claims that garbage disposals waste about 500,000 gallons of water a day, the environmental effects of garbage disposals have been studied and debated for decades, due much in part to New York’s twenty year ban on garbage disposals, which was lifted in 1997. Garbage disposals are rare in Europe because of their  alleged negative impact on water treatment plants.  Proponents of garbage disposals say they divert the impact of garbage from landfills and incinerators, and a study done by the University of Wisconsin concluded that disposing of food waste through a garbage disposal is more environmentally friendly than throwing it in the garbage.  InSinkErator, who sells the majority of garbage disposals across the country, used such studies to push New York officials to drop their ban and hope to do the same in North Carolina.

So many factors go into the green-ness of garbage disposals that it’s hard to determine if they are helping or harming the environment.  They use water and power.  They make it easy for people to throw things down the drain that they shouldn’t.  And does all that ground up food really affect water treatment plants?  Do they really help cut down on landfills?  Are the bacteria in the food better off down the drain than in the landfills, as the Wisconsin study claims?  All these factors weave into a green gordian knot that can be easily cut through one practice: composting.

The Raleigh city council has probably already achieved its goal in implementing this ban, getting residents to think about what they throw down their drains.  Perhaps the next step, if residents succeed in overturning the ban, is consumer awareness of the benefits of composting.  If the city is truly concerned about the water usage of garbage disposals, and residents are truly concerned about landfills, then a community composting plan should be put into effect, much like the one currently in place in Brooklyn.  Urban composting bins are becoming more popular, with city-dwellers using them in community gardens if they don’t have their own.  Click here for a link to a DIY urban composting bin article.

Please give us your thoughts on the garbage disposal ban and perhaps what steps you think the city council should take to fix their sewage issues.