Let’s be honest, we are ALL guilty of rinsing dishes or throwing leftovers or scrapes into our “garbage disposal” in our sinks. After all, if that’s not what it’s meant for, why do we have them? Garbage disposals are great additions to homes. For example, they:
- reduce the use of plastic trash bags that end up in landfills and waterways
- reduce food waste in landfills, which helps reduce greenhouse gases like methane
- send wastewater to water treatment plants where it is then recycled into fertilizer and other energy sources
Despite its benefits, it turns out that garbage disposals are not a trash can substitute. Although it may be convenient, disposing certain things through the sink and garbage disposal does more harm than good to your plumbing, expenses, and to the general quality of water. For example, grease should never be poured down the drain. When fats and grease cool, they solidify, thus creating blockage in the system. Also, grease and water do not mix. If a food item is covered by grease the grease builds up over time making it harder for the water to pass it through the system. On a neighborhood scale, pouring grease in your drains affects the sewage, water pressure, and water quality for you and your neighbors.
Try to avoid disposing the following into your drains and garbage disposals for the sake of your expenses and the health of the region:
- Grease – for the reasons stated above.
- Pasta and Rice- When exposed to water, they expand, meaning they will clog your drain.
- Bones- The thickness and strength of a bone can reduce the strength and sharpness of the blades and eventually ruin your disposal.
- Seeds, apple cores and other solids- these items are too solid for the disposal and, like the bones, can break down your system.
- High-fiber foods and egg shells- The fiber in foods like celery, kale, potato peelings and asparagus can entangle the blades, thus slowing down the equipment and dulling the blades.
- Hair- Like fibrous foods, hair can get tangled in the drain, creating more blockage, slowing down the equipment and dulling the blades.
- Coffee Grounds- This tends to get caught in the drain trap.
- Non-food items- The quickest way to ruin your system is to place plastic items such as utensils, plates or even napkins into the garbage disposal. If is harder for such items to pass and can destroy or back up a system.
- Chemicals- Though household cleaners and items like bleach and paint are liquids, they can cause damage to the drain. Also most contain toxic chemicals that are then passed into the water system and are much harder to filter.
So what is safe to go down the drain? Below are things most disposals and drains are equipped to handle:
- Water- It’s a best practice to rinse your drain and disposal first before running food through it.
- Liquids and soft foods- It’s important to specify here that chemicals are inappropriate. Juices, vinegar,milk, etc are ok. As far as foods, blend or chop up the food as much as possible. The consensus is that if it’s smooth or soft enough for a baby to eat, then it is ok for the drain.
- Ice- this may help break up any build up in the pipes while also giving it a good rinse.
Key takeaway: Do not place non-food items into the garbage disposal. This will save you money, time, and frustration within your home and extend the longevity and quality of the regional water and sewer system. Remember, every small action has large scale consequences for the region and individual alike.
For more information on how to protect your drains, check out sites like the North Texas “Defend Your Drains” Program or your city’s recommendations on composting, recycling and waste management. And in case you forget, check out this infographic by 1st call drains at http://www.1stcalldrains.com/news/12-things-never-put-drain/.
Christie Holland is an urban planner from St. Louis, MO interested in community development, transportation planning, infrastructure, and urban design challenges.