When I was growing up most people had 'em. That's right, the Disposall. I always wondered why dad pronounced it so funny, but now I get it. The spelling suggests it. I never knew it looked like the above pic, though, just under the sink, usually covered by a cupboard. I just assumed there was some metal troll down there chewing up the orange and banana peels, and occasionally, a spoon. You had to run some water, and I guess people thought that was wasteful. These days the things don't take much water at all.
Some of you young-'uns might not know it, but there was a HUGE environmental movement in the 1970's. During the OPEC oil crisis everyone started looking to save on fossil fuels. "Don't heat up the whole outdoors!" was a favorite line when you left the front door open. "Kill-a-Watt" was an ad campaign. A guy named Eul Gibbons ate a whole tree when he wasn't hawking Grape Nuts cereal. (I think he might have died from too much bark; I can't remember the true story). My grandpa was way into organic foods and jarring. Granted he'd been a farmer his whole life, but he understood there was a big difference between what you grow to eat and what you grow to sell at market - usually food meant for cattle and pigs anyway. Everyone talked about how we were destroying the planet. There were books, and movies (remember Soylent Green?) about how overpopulation was going to make us all follow the vision of that Neil Young song.
Now everyone likes to talk compost. I compost (some). Do you compost? It's become a bit of a politically correct conversation. Smug, even, like saying "that's so easy" during a Trivial Pursuit question. So I goes over to neighbor Kendall Christensen's house (in le Manor) for coffee and a healthy fruit breakfast, and he entertains me with the story of Maple Street School's move to its Lincoln Road location about 10 years ago (he was instrumental in that difficult endeavor) and his current stewardship of the Linden Avenue extended care facility - the NY Congregational Nursing Home - you know, the site where the old building at 123 Linden is going to be taken down in exchange for 20+ story apartment building. Both those stories deserve their own posts! But then Kendall blurts forward and blows my mind with his beliefs, well-researched and documented by his core business, which is garbage, literally. Here's what he says:
We shouldn't be focusing on composting to solve our food waste needs. It's about turning the waste into watery goo and sending it to through the sewers. The time for the Disposall's return, ladies and gentlemen, is NOW. Here's his treatise:
Following the Philadelphia food scrap model
Philadelphia leaders recently amended the city's building code to require all new residences to include in-sink food waste disposers. In the wake of that action, a consultant with long-time ties to the country's largest producer of sink disposal systems offers his viewpoint on the state of residential food scrap diversion.
January 26, 2016
By Kendall Christiansen, principal of Gaia Strategies
The lowly garbage disposal is turning the corner to new-found respectability as an essential element in urban toolkits for managing household food scraps.
The latest evidence: In December, Philadelphia adopted a building code requirement for in-sink disposers in all new residential construction, beginning now. The City Council’s action, followed by then-Mayor Michael Nutter’s endorsement, emerged from three years of discussion and research, including a 175-home demonstration project conducted in partnership with InSinkErator.
Over the course of a year, moderate-income homeowners received a disposer and learned how to use it effectively; waste audits, surveys and focus groups confirmed high levels of satisfaction and use, which was not surprising, given that 60 million disposers are installed across the U.S.
Most importantly, the project found that food waste – approximately 10 percent of Philadelphia's residential waste – was reduced by 35 percent. Similar projects in five other cities (Boston; Calgary, Alberta; Chicago; Milwaukee; and Tacoma, Wash.) confirmed or improved on those results.
What's more, the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) – recognized nationally for its innovative leadership – joined the project as it was being planned. PWD operates two state-of-the-art water resource recovery facilities that turn slurried food waste into clean water, biogas and Class A biosolids. It also confirmed findings from a dozen studies that additional water from disposer-using households is minimal.
Multiple methods a must
Prior to consideration of the in-sink disposer project, Philly had already resisted truck-based collection of household organics. For a host of reasons – including pest and odor management – it also has encouraged use of commercial disposers for more than 25 years.
Ultimately, the city's decision acknowledges the need for multiple tools to tackle the challenges – and harness opportunities – associated with managing food scraps as a resource, especially in dense urban areas with high percentages of apartment dwellers. Philadelphia also supports community-based composting and is reviewing other options as part of its current solid waste management plan process.
In addition, using food waste disposers in this manner addresses three key goals of Philadelphia's GreenWorks sustainability plan: less trash, more renewable energy, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
Other cities – both those that participated in a demonstration project and those that did not – are considering in-sink disposers with a fresh perspective.
The method is no longer hidden under the sink. Philadelphia's decision to embrace and embed disposers into residential buildings and infrastructure systems will help advance similar initiatives elsewhere.
Kendall Christiansen is principal of Gaia Strategies, based in Brooklyn, NY. He formerly was senior consultant to InSinkErator, leading its public and environmental affairs work across the U.S.; he continues to support its engagement in the organics resource discussion across Canada.
Then, in response to my question about why Disposall's were banned from many new and old apartment buildings, he had this to say:
"This week the City Council is doing an oversight hearing on the pilot program to separately collect organic waste (food scraps and yard waste) in certain neighborhoods. One of our neighbors is intensely engaged in this issue - sharing the goal of getting food scraps out of our trash and landfills - but from the perspective of managing it as a liquid resource (which means underground pipes) rather than a solid (which means trucks). He played a small role in the city's legalization of in-sink food waste disposers (aka garbage disposals) in 1997, and has been working with cities across the U.S. and Canada for the past decade to promote their use. His home has kept virtually 100% of their food waste out of household trash for nearly 20 years.
Yes, there remains something of what i call the "old building pipes syndrome" - which is mostly a myth, but has been sufficient to keep some buildings from installing them; esp true of rentals, where disposers can be abused and present more of a maintenance issue (or at least the perception of, for NYers generally unfamiliar with them). After city-wide legalization in 1997, Battery Park City required them in its last six apartment buildings, and NYCHA began installing them - initially as a pilot and then as a standard appliance when renovating kitchens. I've had numerous discussions w/sanitary engineers who try to advise building clients to not be concerned; common sense would suggest that pulverizing food scraps makes it LESS likely for pipes to be obstructed - when compared with NOT having a disposer and people flushing leftovers down their toilets (yes; i've heard pretty amazing stories, even from folks that should know better). A pipes video here. on a going forward basis, IF apartment buildings are given a choice between managing a food scraps collection system, or installing/using disposers, it's pretty clear to me which option most will choose.