A Surprising Food Waste Solution: Your Garbage Disposal

A surprising object in your kitchen has the potential to grow into a source of renewable energy: your garbage disposal.

When it comes to disposing of kitchen food waste, nothing beats good, old-fashioned composting. But if you haven’t made the leap yet, there may be another way to prevent your food scraps from ending up in landfills—where it pollutes the environment with methane gas, a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. In fact, you may already be using it. It’s your garbage disposal, or "food waste disposer," as the industry is calling them these days.

If, and this is a big if, the plant where your wastewater is treated converts waste into biogas, then your banana peels and potato skins will be used to create renewable energy and fertilizer products. If not, the solids are typically hauled away to a landfill or burned.

Here’s how it works: Your garbage disposal churns food scraps into a liquid slurry that moves through the sewer system to the treatment plant. There, it's broken down by bacteria through a process called anaerobic digestion, which produces biogas and biosolids. The biogas is captured to power the plant itself and sometimes even sold to the grid or used to fuel other things, like electric cars. The biosolids can be converted into fertilizer.

This technology isn’t new; Assyrians used it to heat their baths in the 10th century B.C., and 43 percent of the wastewater treatment plants in the United States are currently using anaerobic digestion in some way, according to biogasdata.org. Only 104 of those plants, however, use it to generate energy, which means the potential to grow this source of renewable energy is significant.

Here’s what the Water Environment Research Foundation had to say about the potential of biogas in a 2012 report:

“…renewable energy from biogas has the potential to supply an additional 200 – 400 MW of power that can be used on site at wastewater treatment facilities (WWTFs) or distributed back into the electric grid. Since about 4 percent of the electricity used in the United States moves and treats water and wastewater according to the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) (2002), the ability for WWTFs to generate power to offset their own demands or provide additional power to the grid is critical to reducing energy consumption.”


The report goes on to lay out the barriers to energy production, which include not enough return on investment, lack of capital, lack of interest from communities and utilities, difficulties with regulations and permits.

InSinkErator, a company that makes kitchen garbage disposals, has taken notice of the movement to reduce and deal with the overwhelming amount of food waste we produce in the U.S. and recently started marketing the green qualities of its products. Last year the company partnered with the city of Philadelphia to launch Clean Kitchen, Green Community, an initiative that installed disposals in 200 homes, provided incentive for other residents to buy them and provided education on how and why to use them.

While it seems that we have a ways to go until all our wastewater and pulverized food scraps are used to their full potential, the technology is there to make it happen. Take a few minutes to find out how your local wastewater treatment plant operates (here’s a partial list of plants using anaerobic digestion). If it’s making renewable energy, you can feel better about sending your scraps down the drain. If not, ask them why they aren’t. Sustainable America has a goal of cutting food waste in half by 2035, and this is one solution that will help make it happen.

This month, we're challenging the GOOD community to host a dinner party and cook a meal that contains fewer ingredients than the number of people on the guest list. Throughout March, we'll share ideas and resources for being more conscious about our food and food systems. Join the conversation at good.is/food and on Twitter at #chewonit.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user Watt Dabney


He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

He risked his life to leave a "historical record of our martyrdom."

via Yad Vashem and Archive of Modern Conflict, 2007

In September 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland. By April 1940, the gates closed on the Lodz Ghetto, the second largest in the country after Warsaw.

Throughout the war, over 210,000 people would be imprisoned in Lodz.

Among those held captive was Henryk Ross. He was a Jewish sports photographer before the Nazi invasion and worked for the the ghetto's Department of Statistics during the war. As part of his official job, he took identification photos of the prisoners and propaganda shots of Lodz' textile and leather factories.

Keep Reading Show less
via Imgur

Every few years there's something that goes mega viral because people can't decide what it is.

There was the famous "is it blue and black, or white and gold" dress?

There was the audio recording that said either "yanny" or "Laurel."

Keep Reading Show less

Rochester NY Airport Security passing insulting notes to travelers caught on tape www.youtube.com

Neil Strassner was just passing through airport security, something he does on a weekly basis as part of his job. That's when a contract airport security employee handed him a small piece of folded cardboard. Strassner, 40, took the paper and continued on his way. He only paused when he heard the security employee shouting back at him, "You going to open the note?"

When he unfolded the small piece of paper, Strassner was greeted with an unprompted insult. "You ugly!!!"

According to Strassner, and in newly released CCTV of the incident, the woman who handed him the note began laughing loudly.

Keep Reading Show less
Creative Commons

National Tell a Joke Day dates back to 1944 when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was having a meeting with Vice-President, Henry Wallace. The two men were tired and depressed due to the stress caused by leading a country through world war.

During a lull in the meeting, Wallace said, "Frank, to cheer you up I have a joke I'd like to share."

"Let's have it, Henry," Roosevelt replied while ashing his cigarette.

"Why did the chicken cross the road?" Wallace asked. "Not sure," Roosevelt replied.

"To get to the other side," Wallace responded.

Roosevelt laughed so hard that the bourbon he was drinking sprayed out of his nose and onto the floor of the oval office.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Coal mining is on the decline, leaving many coal miners in West Virginia without jobs. The Mine Safety and Health Administration says there are about 55,000 positions, and just 13,000 of those jobs are in West Virginia. The dwindling amount of work is leaving some struggling to make a living, but the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective is giving those coal miners a way to find new jobs and make a supplemental income as coal mining diminishes.

The Appalachian Beekeeping Collective trains coal miners and other low-income residents in mining communities to keep bees. Some coal miners are getting retrained to work in the tech industry, however beekeeping allows coal miners to continue to work in a job that requires a similar skill set. "The older folks want to get back to work, but mining is never going to be like it was in the '60s and '70s, and there is nothing to fall back on, no other big industries here, so all of these folks need retraining," former coal miner James Scyphers told NPR. "Beekeeping is hands-on work, like mining, and requires on-the-job training. You need a good work ethic for both."

Keep Reading Show less