Food scraps make up about 13% of our total municipal solid waste, an amount similar to the yard waste we generate here in the U.S. (The two make up about a quarter of the total waste stream – what a lovely use of the word “stream”….) Most of it goes to landfills, where the anerobic (lacking oxygen) environment generates methane, one of the worst contributors to climate change. Also, food and yard waste must be carried by those gas guzzling garbage trucks to the landfills, many trucks, making many trips.
Close to half of all U.S. households have garbage disposals, which grind up food scraps and send them, through municipal sewage systems to wastewater treatment plants. If you have found yourself asking which is better, tossing the peelings, etc. in the garbage or using the garbage disposal in your sink, you may find your answer here. The best solution is neither, and certainly less convenient. It is composting.
Garbage disposals use power (not much) and water (est. at 700 gallons /year), and the resultant sludge must be handled by the wastewater treatment plants. Some handle it well, turning it into fertilizer or burning it for energy. Some do not handle it well. New York City banned the use of garbage disposal units from the 70’s to the 90’s for this reason. You can
call your local waste or water treatment facility to get a local answer.
Composting turns those food scraps into more food for living things, lessens the landfill load, lightens the carbon footprint. San Francisco has a city wide program to collect food waste from residences and businesses (with trucks run on alternative fuels)). Boulder and a few other places are beginning city-wide composting. For the rest of us, we can learn to do it for ourselves, clearly not easy for apartment dwellers, or try to encourage our local governments to help us.
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Barbara Hirsch, recording engineer, eco-person
“Unless someone like you cares a whole lot,
nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
– The Lorax, Children’s book by Dr. Seuss