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Are Garbage Disposals Eco-Friendly?

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Are Garbage Disposals Eco-Friendly?

By Jon Fisher, The Nature Conservancy

You’re standing at the kitchen sink cleaning the dinner dishes when eco-confusion strikes: what’s the greenest way to dispose of your meat scraps and other non-compostable leftovers—in the trash or garbage disposal (if you have one)?

Grinding up leftover chicken bones in the garbage disposal means sending them down the drain to be handled by your wastewater treatment facility, which requires plenty of water and energy. But dropping them in the trash means decades of slow decomposition in a landfill.

Fortunately, this dilemma falls pretty low on the eco-guilt chart: the difference between the two options is actually much smaller than many other choices we make. So first let’s look at two of those bigger choices that are more important than what you do with your scraps: minimize food waste and eat lower on the food chain.

#1 Minimize Food Waste. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has reported that one third of global food production is wasted, and while some of that happens before it gets to us, industrialized nations still waste 222 million tons of food after we buy it.

Simply doing better food planning like knowing the recipes you’re going to make and in what order you’ll make them during the week helps to ensure that you buy only the food you will need and can use it before it spoils. If you tend to throw out leftovers, consider freezing them immediately, both to reduce spoilage and so that you can eat them in a few weeks when you’re not sick of that dish anymore.

And continue composting your food waste as much as you can. Keep in mind that it is also possible to compost bones and other meat with a little extra thought. If you live in the city you should probably invest in a sturdy pest-proof compost bin with a tightly fitting lid to keep the smell out. In suburban or rural areas just burying the animal waste well in the pile may be enough. Either way, try to avoid putting fatty parts of meat in the pile as these cause the most trouble.

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40 comments

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5:34AM PST on Feb 12, 2014

thank you for sharing

2:18AM PDT on Apr 5, 2012

thank you for info..

2:20PM PST on Feb 26, 2012

We have compost pick up where I live (isn't that awesome!?!?) and all food and yard waste is allowed. Even bones. YAY

12:15PM PST on Feb 8, 2012

We have a garbage disposal that was installed before we moved in, but it isn't friendly to our septic system, so we don't use it.

9:05AM PST on Feb 8, 2012

DON'T HAVE ONE!

11:14AM PST on Feb 7, 2012

I'm in the planning stage of a kitchen remodeling - have been wondering if a garbage disposal was worth it or not - thanks for the info!

9:24AM PST on Feb 6, 2012

great!

8:12AM PST on Feb 6, 2012

Thanks Jon.

9:07AM PST on Feb 5, 2012

Thanks for all of the comments! It is true that even if you use bones for stock you still end up with bones, and as noted I'd say either just put them in the garbage or bury them deep in your outdoor compost pile if you're feeling brave (I know several people who do this, although I've also heard it can cause problems). It is also a good point that there are lots of foods which can cause plumbing problems when put down the garbage disposal: oils, bones or other hard materials, rice / pasta, egg shells, and fibrous vegetables. I was thinking more of the "green" aspect of it but it's good to keep in mind that you can damage your plumbing if you're not careful what you put in your disposal!

10:30PM PST on Feb 4, 2012

It's interesting how when you haven't eaten meat for years, the thought of having to dispose of bones sounds so macabre, even 'Dexter-ish'. When I was a kid in the 60's it was quite normal to have a great big T-bone on your plate but we rarely see that sort of thing anymore, thank the gods. I guess it's all part of our human evolution toward a more compassionate and higher ethic.

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