Press Release
11 Park Place, Suite 1500, New York, NY 10007
Phone: (212) 233-6555 Fax: (212) 233-6683



The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently concluded a 21-month study of how food waste disposers would impact the city’s environmental infrastructure. Based on this study, DEP recommended authorizing the use of the disposers in New York City. There will be several significant benefits to city residents, and city government, if the City Council approves the installation of food waste disposers.

These benefits include:

  • Food waste disposed of in the sink will mean that food garbage will no longer have to be stored in kitchens where it attracts vermin. Also, city residents will no longer feel compelled to “take out the garbage” during inclement weather or late at night when it may be inconvenient or unsafe, since the availability of food waste disposers will mean that household garbage need no longer contain messy, wet or smelly food waste.

  • There will be much less rotting food waste in garbage bags awaiting collection on city sidewalks. Today, this waste is the major food source of rats and other vermin, as well as the source of offensive odors, particularly during warm weather months. Similarly, in apartment houses that use compactors, the oozing liquids that breed pests in basement storage rooms can be virtually eliminated. Since increased levels of asthma have been linked to exposure to airborne roach droppings, food waste disposers also may help to address asthma, one of the city’s most pressing health problems.

  • Widespread use of food waste disposers will enhance the Department of Sanitation’s ability to meet critical objectives of the City’s Solid Waste Master Plan, for starters by reducing the amount of waste needed to be picked up by City sanitation trucks and transported to the Fresh Kills Landfill or to in-city transfer stations for export. Diverting food garbage from disposal at Fresh Kills will reduce odors at the Landfill. Additionally, by reducing the amount of decomposing food waste in Fresh Kills and out-of-state landfills, the use of food waste disposers will reduce acidic liquids that leach out contaminants as well as reduce the production of gases that add to global warming.

  • Disposing of food waste down the drain ensures that it will be recycled along with waste sewage solids into compost for beneficial reuse in arid soils. And using food waste disposers will accomplish composting sooner, more reliably and more economically than separate food waste composting.

  • By removing a substantial amount of food waste from residential garbage, in-sink garbage disposers will enhance source separation, making recycling easier, since wet food waste often contaminates other refuse which otherwise would be more efficiently recycled. This also will reduce collection and separation costs.
Nearly all types of biodegradable food waste, ranging from melon rinds to fish and chicken bones, can be safely and effectively ground by a disposer. After being ground into small particles and mixed with a small amount of water, food waste is carried away through a dwelling’s plumbing system to sewers, which carry the wastewater to municipal treatment plants where the solid portion is processed with other biodegradable waste into sludge. In turn, sludge is processed into compost or soil conditioner. According to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report, food waste contributes a declining percentage of the total waste stream, due in large part to the use of garbage disposers.

On the issue of water usage, according to the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Wisconsin, an average home disposer uses less water in 5 days than is required for one flush of a low-flow toilet.

Plumbing industry leaders, consumer advocates and environmental experts affirm that 90 million food waste disposers have been operating problem-free throughout the U.S. for more than 30 years. Forty-five percent of all households in the U.S. have food waste disposers, and 80% of all newly-built homes are equipped with food waste disposers as a standard kitchen appliance. In fact, more than 90 communities nationwide -- including major metropolitan areas like Detroit, Los Angeles and Indianapolis --- actually require the installation of disposers in all new housing construction and kitchen renovations.

According to environmental expert and advocate Carolyn Konheim, who serves as a consultant to industry in this area, “Because New York City now converts the solids from wastewater treatment plants into a compost that enriches soil, it is environmentally better to add food wastes to wastewater than to haul waste that is 70% water -- in trucks that contribute to air pollution -- to distant landfills where it generates global warming gases. It is also far more economical than separating food waste for collection and composting. Since there have been no reported operational problems related to food waste in sewer lines anywhere in America, I expect that the New York experience will be just as positive.”

Finding from both the New York City Department of Environmental Protection study and studies conducted over a number of years by the University of Wisconsin indicate the following:

  • Use of food waste disposers would not precipitate any perceptible increase in water rates. The DEP projects increases in water rates in 2005 due to food waste disposers ranging from 0.16% to 0.61% over 1997 levels, depending on which degree of nitrogen control is imposed on the City, irrespective of food waste disposers. The actual increase in any one year would never exceed 0.15%. Thus, it is clear that no significant increase in water rates would be attributable to the use of food waste disposers.

  • Food waste disposers have not strained sewage systems anywhere, nor would they in NYC. After having examined all potential effects on sewers and having performed a detailed analysis of each wastewater treatment plant, DEP concluded there would be a minimal impact on the sewage infrastructure of the city. Even though other cities in which food waste disposers are widely used report no sewer maintenance problems attributable to the waste disposer, and the DEP’s videotapes of sewers found no noticeable deposits of suspended material, DEP used conservative standards in the literature to estimate the potential deposition in those sections of sewers that, due to their diameter or grade, do not have a self-cleaning velocity. They concluded that sewer maintenance costs would increase by less than 2% in 2005.

  • Since wastewater in New York City is typically very dilute, the additional biosolids from food waste disposers would be well within the design capacities of wastewater treatment plants, and would be limited primarily by capacities of the sludge-handling systems at a few plants. These include six plants that are limited by sludge and thickener capacities, and two more that will need additional aerator capacity after 2025. The modest scale of modifications needed to manage the additional solids due to food waste disposers can be seen by the insignificant rate increases needed to cover the cost of the modification.

  • Food waste disposers would have no adverse effect on New York’s waterways. After applying its haborwide forecasting model, in both open waters and the worst-case tributary (Flushing Bay), DEP concluded that increases of oxygen-demanding pollutants from food waste disposers would cause minimal effect on compliance with the New York State standard of 4.0 mg/L DO for “fishable” waters in the harbor and tributaries, adding less than 0.01 mg/L DO; the only quantifiable effect would be about a 1.5% increase in time that the State standard is exceeded at the mouth of Flushing Creek. This assessment includes the effects of “wet weather flows.”

  • Food waste disposers would cause no significant increase in water consumption. While the food waste disposers pilot test data showed no change in water use, to be conservative, DEP assumed that food waste disposers would result in an increase of 1.0 gallon of water per capita per day, and concluded that this worst- case consumption would represent a “minor increase” of water demand -- approximately 20¢ of the 1.3 billion gallons per day average. Research conducted at the University of Wisconsin Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering shows that, based on a review of 33 studies, the mean increase in water use due to food waste disposers is 0.28 gal/cap/day. Further study at the University using two-week tests before and after the installation of food waste disposers in a variety of households concluded that there was no significant difference in water consumption with or without food waste disposers.

The long-term impacts of food waste disposers have been exhaustively studied by DEP. While DEP, prudently, plans to closely monitor the incremental effects of food waste disposer use, the 21-month pilot study consistently used worst-case assumptions upon finding no discernible effect during the course of the study (including video monitoring of the sewers) to make long-term forecasts. Anticipating concerns, the DEP study examined basin-by-basin costs. The issue of energy use was not examined because of its insignificance. Appendix B of the DEP report states that food waste disposers are used 2-3 times a day for a total of 0.6 minutes. If, to be conservative, using the industry upper limit of 2 minute/day, the 0.5 horsepower motor of a food waste disposer consumes less than a 75 watt light bulb uses in 10 minutes.
      Kendall Christiansen
      Geto & de Milly, Inc.

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