The 101: Waste is going to waste


Garbage is often considered so mundane that the general population pays no attention to the process used to discard it.

Lyndsie Yamrus, Senior Editor

Forty percent of the food that is produced in the United States goes uneaten, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. This habit not only consumes energy, wastes natural resources and swallows up precious land space, but the majority of the waste ends up rotting in a landfill.

Besides being unsightly and smelly, landfills are unsustainable and very costly to build and maintain. Unfortunately, most of the waste we create will end up at one of these facilities.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the average person contributes about 4.5 pounds of waste into the landfill everyday.

Food scraps that rot in landfills decompose rapidly and produce methane- a harmful greenhouse gas that is 20 to 25 percent more powerful than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere. Other materials, like Styrofoam, take a million years or more to decompose.

Landfills also generate leachate – a toxic liquid concoction formed from the mixing of organic and inorganic materials in the landfill. Landfills receive waste from residential, commercial and industrial settings, all of which contribute to this liquid.

The leachate poses an enormous threat to groundwater contamination. Pesticides, heavy metals and solvents are just a few compounds commonly found in the system.

Trucking the waste to the landfill also generates undesirable emissions.

A more earth-friendly approach to food disposal is composting. Combining food scraps with other organic wastes allows for decomposition by microorganisms. The process is natural and produces a nutrient-rich fertilizer that is highly beneficial to plant growth and success.

But composting isn’t always the most practical method, especially for those who are busy or live in urban areas. Many might not have the time or space to properly maintain a compost, which often requires tending to almost everyday. Pests are also common among heaps of organic matter, such as birds and rodents.

The most logical choice for wood waste disposal in today’s busy society is the garbage disposal.

Electrically powered and installed conveniently under the sink, garbage disposals are a convenient and environmentally conscious. The units divert the 34 million tons of food waste out of landfills and into the wastewater treatment plant.

Food waste is about 70% of water as it is, according to InSinkerator, a leading company in waste disposal units. It just makes more sense.

At the wastewater treatment plant, methane produced in treating wastewater can easily be captured and used to generate renewable energy. This energy is used to help power the plant itself, and the process is becoming more and more widespread. Reductions in biogas through this process would decrease the global warming potential significantly.

Another positive of using a garbage disposal is the potential for recycling. Sewage sludge is a nutrient-rich organic solid or semi-solid residue that is generated during the wastewater treatment process. Once entirely treated, the sludge becomes a biosolid and can often be used as fertilizer.

Food waste and what to do with it is a controversial topic. There are pros and cons to each method of disposal, but the garbage disposal is one of today’s most sound options. Disposal unit producers, such as InSinkerator, are avidly working with municipalities across the globe to further this sustainable technology.

If you have access to a garbage disposal, consider sending your waste down the drain next time. You’ll be making a significant contribution to the environment.