Sustainability Wars: Garbage Disposal vs Composting

By Sara Mack, Marketing Manager

Garbage disposals are widely used across the United States, and can be found in over 50% of homes. The reality of the situation is that more people have access to a garbage disposal system than have a way to compost their food scraps.  Because of this, in-sink disposal systems are a common way to dispose of food scraps. 

The natural question then becomes: if composting and utilizing the garbage disposal both provide an easy way to keep your food scraps out of the trash, which is the better choice? 

Let’s first discuss the pros of using a garbage disposal. If an individual puts food scraps down their in-sink disposal, they will be naturally reducing the amount of trash sent from their home to  landfills or incinerators. Additionally, they will avoid any monetary or environmental costs that can be associated with compost pick-up services. Additionally, some waste water management facilities have systems designed to convert methane from solid waste collected from garbage disposals into biofuels. These systems are often more efficient than similar energy capture systems at landfills.

Although utilizing the garbage disposal for food scraps does have certain advantages, it also has its drawbacks. Over time, significant amounts of energy and water are required to operate the in-sink system.  The use of a garbage disposal also puts an increased strain on existing water pipes and infrastructure due to oil and food waste clogs, which can result in expensive plumbing bills, especially in older buildings. And once the food particles reach their final destination, not all wastewater facilities engage in capturing methane — this means that some garbage disposals still lead to solids that will, at the end of the day, be transported to landfills. Finally, garbage disposals can not be used to dispose of the full range of items that can be composted, especially when it comes to large-scale compost initiatives like we run at Compost Crew. An avocado pit or a greasy pizza box are both items that can be broken down into nutrient rich black gold if composted, but likely would cause some problems for a garbage disposal system! 

Most of the benefits associated with garbage disposals can also be achieved, and even brought to the next level, through composting. Composting food scraps also reduces trash hauling costs. Additionally, when food scraps are composted, they don’t produce methane at all. Instead, the composting process actually has the potential to absorb CO2 and reduce the amount of fossil fuels in the atmosphere. Composting has the added benefit of improving local soil quality and the potential to aid in erosion control. These additional perks are crucial in the fight against food insecurity and local environmental health — and they are benefits you won’t get when you put your food down the garbage disposal. 

Although the garbage disposal system is convenient, composting is the clear choice from an environmental perspective. 

What other methods of waste disposal would you like us to compare with composting in future blog posts? Let us know in the comments, and, as always, feel free to reach out with any questions you may have. 

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