A colleague of mine once said, “Had the disposer never been invented, today would be a great time.” This is because of what I call the three environmental mega-trends – food waste reduction, landfill diversion, and resource recovery. Consider these facts. #1 – The United States Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Agriculture announced a joint goal to reduce food waste 50% by 2030. #2 – Five states have regulatory mandates or goals to divert organics from landfills, and four more are considering similar guidelines. #3 – Wastewater treatment plants are being re-branded as ‘water resource recovery facilities’ because they produce clean water, energy and fertilizer.
The food waste disposer is at the intersection of these mega-trends. It is the perfect solution for accomplishing all three goals. This is never more evident than in Racine, my home, where the disposer was invented by John Hammes in 1927. A local zero waste initiative began within the last year, partly because the City Administrator Jim Palenick recognized the Kestrel Hawk landfill will soon face closure, perhaps in as few as four years. The Zero Waste Committee has already acknowledged disposers as part of the solution, and the wastewater treatment plant will most certainly benefit from increased biogas production for making energy in its anaerobic digesters.
We pay relatively little for garbage and utility fees, and we just want our trash and sewage to disappear. Unless the garbage truck misses a pickup, or we have sewage backing up in our basement, everything is hunky-dory. We simply “flush and forget.” In other words, unless something affects our everyday lives, we take these utilities for granted. However, with the landfill closure looming, residents of Racine will most likely face higher solid waste costs soon, as officials evaluate other options – new sites and further distances.
If residents used their disposers more to reduce food waste in the trash, it is possible to not only prolong the life of the landfill, but also help the wastewater utility produce more of their own energy to reduce operating costs. Perhaps residents could even pay less for trash removal by asking for smaller waste containers. At the invitation of Greening Greater Racine a few weeks ago, I shared this message of using disposers to help Racine’s efforts to a group of about 45 people at the public library, and will also participate in a panel at the Golden Rondelle on March 15th. So far, I continue to hear a similar theme – people are reluctant to use their disposer.
To help people gain confidence in using their disposer and prevent problems in their plumbing, we created an instructional video. My hope is that people will begin to use their disposer for more than just plate scrapings. Take note. Don’t fill the disposer, turn it on and then add water. Operate it just the opposite – water first, disposer second, then gradually add food waste, and then make sure to let the water run a few seconds after grinding. I guarantee this method allows for grinding virtually any kind of food waste, significantly reducing the amount of trash sent to the curb.