Sharing my passion for disposer usage to divert food waste from landfills invariably generates questions about what can and can’t put down a disposer – even in the professional settings where I make presentations. Last week the questions were about onion skins from one person, and cantaloupe rinds from another. Of course both can go down a disposer – easy as can be, I told them. As long as you use it in the right way.
But over time I’ve learned that people do not use their disposer as much or as effortlessly as they could. They mainly use the appliance to clean up, and anxiety over potential plumbing problems leads them to follow the old adage, “better safe than sorry.”
I believe this is either from experiencing problems firsthand or from hearing about them after an episode of improper disposer use. All too often, people use one in a way that is completely opposite to instructions.
Some people fill up the disposer chamber with food scraps, start the unit, and then turn on the water. This sends a “slug” of food into the plumbing trap all at once. Others don’t use any water at all. Either way is using the appliance improperly and invites issues.
The steps to proper use are few — turning the water on, then the disposer, and then gradually adding food scraps into the disposer, grinding them until nothing is left in the chamber. You can tell by the sound when grinding is complete. Then make sure to keep the water on for a few additional seconds to carry the food waste through the trap and internal plumbing. Simple.
But many people are even more expert at ignoring or dismissing instructions.
During a recent series of tests in five cities we provided pretty extensive education and use instructions to participants getting them accustomed to using their new appliances in the right way. Through direct contact we learned that about 30% of household food waste gets processed in disposers. While this is substantial, there is potential for disposers to keep much more out of landfills. And it’s easy to do successfully when following directions.