Mayor Charles Meeker and the City Council of Raleigh, N.C., recently found themselves steeped in hot water! It's no wonder. In addition to banning garbage disposal installations or replacement of existing units on March 4, they added a $25,000 fine for violators. Good grief, if they'd done a wee bit of due diligence, researched the issue and used a smattering of common sense, they wouldn't have suffered the ire of the citizens who felt their rights had been violated.
Whenever I want an honest and to-the-point opinion, I ask my wife. “You can have my disposal when you pry it from my cold dead hands!” she said, referring to our 1 HP InSinkErator food waste grinder. It's not the first time I've ventured onto thin ice where this appliance is concerned.
Every time I've admonished my bride regarding items she's sent down the drain, I've been told, “Don't worry, I know someone who can unclog drains.” She does admit, reluctantly, to having listened when I told her not to grind stringy items in the disposal. As a plumber's wife, she knows the damage pouring grease down the drain would cause. In the 15 years our disposal has been in use, we haven't experienced a single problem.
As a master plumber with almost four decades of experience, I have seen the aftermath of disposals that were operated incorrectly or abused. Five pounds of burned sweet potatoes stuffed into a disposal before it's turned on will create a memorable drain-line clog. Operator errors cannot be avoided and the consequences have, in every instance I know of, been confined to the home's internal plumbing system — an expense borne by the offenders.
I researched the issues surrounding the use of food waste grinders in January 2006 for The World Book Encyclopedia. Almost 50% of U.S. residences have a disposal. Politicians who have angered half of their voters can rest assured they'll be flushed out of office in the next election!
Use of a disposal increases the amount of particulate matter in the home's sewer system by 20% and grease by about 35%. This aids municipal sewage treatment by increasing the carbon nutrient percentages. Increased biological nutrient removal and biogas production helps to break down raw sewage. Methane (a combustible gas) production is increased and captured to produce electricity in gas-fired turbines.
In fact, an independent study done by Dr. Robert Ham at the University of Wisconsin determined that food scraps sent via disposal-to-municipal sewage treatment plants was much “greener” than food scraps hauled away to landfills or incinerators.
The report noted that this results in “the lowest municipal cost; least air emissions; converts food waste to a recycled resource; is the most convenient method of food waste disposal; is the most likely method for organics source separation; and, overall, is the most friendly and sustainable food waste disposal option.”
Absent the use of disposals, rotting food waste creates foul odors and attracts insects and rats. Once hauled away, disposal in landfills can lead to contamination of aquifers.
New York City repealed its ban on the use of disposals on Oct. 11, 1997 after commissioning a study to determine if their use was responsible for problems within miles of sanitary sewer lines. The conclusion was that disposals presented a “de minimus” issue and were not the underlying cause of the city's municipal sewer clogs.
Meeker, during an interview, had said he hoped the newly enacted ban would induce folks to utilize composting. He also said disposals “encourage bad habits.” David McNair, vice president of marketing for InSinkErator, correctly countered with the fact that bad habits — like pouring grease down the drain — will continue and that grease is an unavoidable consequence in drainage systems by virtue of cookware and dishwashing.
In that same interview, the interviewer spoke with one of the Raleigh sewer maintenance crewmembers while observing the flow from an apartment complex where chunks of solidified grease have been a chronic problem.
No mention of disposals in the apartments was made. It is a well-known fact that specific ethnic groups living in neighborhoods or apartment buildings often have cooking habits and diets that result in more frequent grease clogs. You and I know that's true by virtue of cleaning drains, and if you ask the sewer maintenance crews, they can accurately predict areas where this will occur. However, due to political correctness, you can bet no politician would touch this subject with a 10-ft. pole!
Meeker was right about one thing — composting. However, not all of the food scraps generated are suitable for use in composting bins. Therefore, the issue of hauling them away or grinding them in a disposal remains. Disposals use water and electricity during their operation. In our home, that's about three gallons of water with one minute of run time per day. At current rates, that's 8 cents for water and 43 cents for electricity per year.
Raleigh's mayor and city council allowed testimony to be heard regarding the truth about disposals. They eventually realized their ban adversely affected both constituents and legitimate plumbing contractors and that the ban was without merit. On April 16, the disposal ban was wisely repealed by a unanimous vote. Raleigh, however, still faces the prospect of fines by the State of Carolina for the 48 to 50 sewer main backups per year. Meeker and his council need to generate revenues to support increased maintenance of their aging municipal sewer system.
Here's my suggestion for Meeker and the city council: To offset the costs you felt were being caused by disposals, do what my township does — charge an extra fee of $5 per month for each disposal and tack it onto the customers' sewage treatment bill. Then, use a portion of that projected $3 million revenue from a disposal use fee to promote your composting idea. Additional information about independent disposal use studies is available at www.insinkerator.com.
Dave Yates owns F.W. Behler, a contracting company in York, Pa. He can be reached by phone at 717/843-4920 or by e-mail at [email protected].
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