Managing food waste for a greener planet

by ‐ Tags: alternative energy, water efficiency, building science, green living

There is currently a debate in the world of sustainable and green living about the best way to manage food waste in the kitchen. The two common options for dealing with food scraps are to throw them in the trash or use a garbage disposal to grind the food up and send it down the drain. Which is the ‘greener’ approach and is there an alternative?

Tossing It Out


So what’s wrong with just throwing out those onion peels and unwanted leftovers? Well, waste generation in general is something we should be working to minimize, as everything you toss into your trash can most likely ends up at a landfill. Once it’s there, organic matter like food waste releases a large amount of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 20 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. So there are two primary issues with throwing food waste in the garbage: one is the increased volume of waste itself, contributing to the demand for more designated landfill space and the second is the contribution to global warming through greenhouse gas emissions.

 Sending  it Down the Drain


The environmental impact of garbage disposals comes down to water and energy use. It obviously takes additional energy to run the motor of a garbage disposal. This may seem negligible, but could add up over time if the disposal is used as the primary means of food waste management. Another high impact consequence of garbage disposals has to do with water use and water treatment. It is necessary to run ther water while the disposal is on and for a short time after you have turned it off. This may not translate into a large cost for additional water for any individual tenant, but think about how that adds up in a multi-unit building.

Panning out and looking at the bigger picture, the cost of using garbage disposals on the water treatment infrastructure can be immense. The additional food solids in the waste water going to the municipal treatment plan require more energy to filter and treat properly. Additionally, the pumps that carry the potable water to your faucet and take the waste water away have to work harder. On the macro scale, these costs and additional energy inputs have a substantial impact.

 How Can I Adopt Greener Food Waste Management?

Composting is catching on as a growing trend, sometimes even on a larger municipally funded scale like in San Francisco. Though it is the greenest option out there right now because it puts the organic matter and nutrients back where they came from (into the ground to nourish new vegetation), and eliminates most of the issues described above, it can be a challenge to implement in certain settings, including in a multifamily building. Some of the things that need to be considered when designing a composting program for tenants are:


If composting is something you are interested in participating in, you should do your homework on what is available to your city or town in terms of composting services. See how you can tap into that existing system if it exists and, if you manage a larger building, how to get tenants on board by making the composting process as streamlined as possible.