It’s not uncommon for us humans to hang onto misconceptions, even for years. Faulty ideas we hold as truths come from everyday experiences, mythical teachings and a variety of other origins, including factual misconceptions learned early and never corrected. An example of this is when a kid hears, and never questions, the expression lightning never strikes twice in the same place. (Some time ago that one was debunked by two guys named Jamie and Adam who built a TV career dispelling cultural misconceptions on the “Mythbusters” show for the Discovery Channel.)
Science Educators Classified Misconceptions
My curiosity about how myths develop resulted from attending the mid-summer meeting of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) in Philadelphia. NACWA is the association of municipal wastewater utilities. As a representative of InSinkErator and former wastewater guy, I enjoy speaking with members, a few of whom have given scarce thought to disposers’ impact on infrastructure or the benefits of liquefied food waste at treatment plants. There was great talk about food waste disposers and I was gratified to hear food waste disposers mentioned by speakers from the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) during each of the conference’s three days.
On the first day Paul Kohl, who focused on the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of food waste disposal systems completed by PEAMERICAS last year, spoke in support of expanded use of disposers to increase organics diversion and resource recovery at treatment plants.
On day two, Mayor Nutter gave the plenary, including a summary of Philadelphia’s “Clean Kitchens, Green Community” program encouraging disposer use, which was also mentioned later by Chris Crockett, Deputy Commissioner of Planning & Environmental Services.
And by the last day of the conference my curiosity about how myths develop came to fruition when more than one attendee approached me, each stating something similar – it was along the lines of, “But I thought everyone already had a disposer.” I guess they figured I was there with the aim of selling more disposers, which was confusing since “everybody has one.”
Let’s get some misconceptions out of the way: a technical conference isn’t exactly the first place InSinkErator Marketing folks would go to sell more disposers. Next, let’s address the “everybody has one” idea. It’s a fact that disposers are installed in roughly 60%of U.S. households … whereas west of the Mississippi, disposer installations are much higher (90%+ in some cities.) That’s because in new housing disposers are practically a “given” – much as faucets and toilets are – and once people have a disposer they tend not to live without one. But in places like Philadelphia just under 50% of homes have them. As ubiquitous as they’ve become in recent building, the notion that disposers are everywhere is a misconception.
So why do I attend NACWA and other conferences surrounding the topics highlighted in my masthead? As the market leader and the company founded by the inventor of the food waste disposer, InSinkErator has a vested interest (as do all disposer manufacturers) to ensure everyone from municipal officials to wastewater operators understand what happens when ground food waste is sent through underground pipes to a wastewater system where it can be converted into clean water, as well as energy and fertilizer, vs. sending it to a landfill. I find a surprising number of myths floating around even among the technical crowd about just what happens after food scraps go down the drain. In addition to conference conversations, I hope to take on these myths, one-by-one, in upcoming posts using a wealth of data from scientific studies conducted over decades.
But to wrap up this particular topic, let’s look at one of the most common myths about disposers. We hear it from all quarters – even disposer owners – and it’s about how disposers grind so finely (less than 2 mm) that food scraps become “liquefied.” It seems to fit the category the Science Teachers call Preconceived Notions.