Raleigh, N.C. — The city council here recently reversed its decision to ban garbage disposal installations, nearly a month after the ban took effect in mid-March.
The reversal came after an intensive information campaign on the part of disposal manufacturer InSinkErator and the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling-Contractors-National Association.
City officials initially imposed the ban, which levied a fine of up to $25,000 against violators, to prevent expensive clogs in its sewer system. The repealed ordinance prohibited the installation or connection of new garbage disposals or food scrap grinders to the city's sanitary sewer system. It also prohibited residential and commercial establishments from replacing existing garbage disposals that are no longer operational.
A number of PHCC-NA's members worked with InSinkErator representatives to help overturn the ban, according to Ike Casey, the association's executive vice president.
“Their argument was ridiculous,” Casey said. “This had to do with fats, oil and grease, and how do waste disposers come into play? We couldn't see the connection. Evidently some politicians and others thought that people poured grease down the disposer but didn't pour grease down the drain. It didn't make any sense.”
David McNair, vice president of marketing for InSinkErator, said the city council made its decision to reverse the ban after considering a dozen research studies presented by his company and others.
One of those studies, by Purdue University food science professor Kevin Keener, researched samplings from 23 different municipal sewer systems across the country, including Raleigh's, McNair said.
The manufacturer also presented Kendall Christiansen, former chairman of New York City's Recycling Advisory Board and an environmental consultant. It took New York about 20 years to roll back a similar ban it instituted in 1997.
McNair said the wealth of research regarding disposals primarily concludes that municipal sewers and wastewater systems effectively treat ground food. According to McNair, decades of research and widespread use of disposers also support the role the appliances play in diverting food waste from collection trucks, landfills and incinerators.
“From a practical standpoint, a municipality has two choices: ‘Do I want to put this stuff in a landfill, or do I want to put it into a wastewater treatment plant?’ ” McNair said. “When you look at the research on that and you recognize the concern for mitigating greenhouse gases and leachate, both of which are products of landfills, you start to realize it makes sense to treat food waste through the wastewater treatment plant.”
Treatment plants also help press food waste into biosolids for compost-quality soil improvement on agricultural lands across the nation, the manufacturer argues.
In addition, food waste makes up 15% to 20% of residential waste and averages 70% water, the manufacturer claims, arguing that the chemical composition of food waste is comparable to human waste.
“When people start to realize those sorts of things, that kind of changes the thought process,” McNair said. “Well, maybe it doesn't make sense to think about this as solid waste. Do we really want to truck around a bunch of water and put water in a landfill? It makes more sense to transport food waste through a sewer system and treat it at a wastewater treatment plant.”
J. Russell Allen, Raleigh's city manager, said the city council repealed the disposal ban in mid-April. The council's Budget and Economic Development Committee recommended the ban's reversal after concluding there is no scientific evidence linking garbage disposals or food grinders to sewer overflows.
“I think they were concerned that perhaps there was no scientific evidence that grease from food disposals are causing blockages in our lines and that the community wasn't ready for that kind of change,” he said.
Council members also unanimously agreed to step up the city's efforts to educate utility customers about preventing sewer overflows. Raleigh averages 48 to 50 sewer overflows annually, according to city officials.
Consumers placing food and grease into the sewer system directly cause about 40% of the overflows, officials said. The North Carolina Division of Water Quality is threatening to levy civil penalties of up to $25,000 against Raleigh for overflows that occur in its sewer system.
The Raleigh Public Utilities Department provides water and sanitary sewer service to more than 167,000 metered customers and a service population of approximately 410,000 people. The department also is developing a reuse water system to provide an alternative water resource for demands not requiring potable water quality. In addition to the retail customers, there are also wholesale customers that buy water in bulk from the city.