Garbage disposals are a great home convenience. But did you know they’re also a benefit to the planet? Food scraps represent a primary part of the total load of disposables from a typical household. As it turns out, the old-school method of disposing of food in the regular garbage pick-up has some fairly serious downstream effects on the environment. Americans throw out more than 30 million tons of food scraps each year, most of which end up buried in landfills. Decaying food in landfills generates methane gas, a greenhouse element harmful to the upper atmosphere.
Food is 70 percent water. When run through garbage disposals, in most homes (those without septic systems), it’s disposed through the sewer line and travels to water reclamation facilities where it’s recycled into a source of renewable energy as well as fertilizer. In most homes, a garbage disposal uses only about 50 cents of electricity a year to run, and the process consumes only approximately 1 percent of household water usage.
A garbage disposal operates much like a very powerful food processor. Utilizing sharp blades rotating at high speed, a garbage disposal shreds, pulverizes and chops food. As water streams into the disposal from the sink, the food is reduced to a size sufficiently small to be flushed through the exit holes in the bottom of the disposal. From there, it’s conveyed through the home’s sanitary sewer line and into the municipal waste water system.
Garbage disposals operate reliably most of the time. However, they often take a beating in normal use and may malfunction occasionally. These incidents can be inconvenient and even dangerous. Here are some maintenance dos and don’ts to keep garbage disposals on the job and safely operating:
- Do keep cold water running before and during disposal operation. Cold water keeps animal fats solid to prevent clogging the system. It also cools the garbage disposal’s powerful electric motor to prevent early failure due to overheating. After you turn off the unit, continue to run cold water for 30 additional seconds to flush all chopped material out of the disposal and into the plumbing drain pipe.
- Do keep an eye out for leaks underneath the sink. Pipe connections may become loose and seals may leak due to exposure to vibration from garbage disposals.
- Do keep dish rags and other fabrics out of the sink. If they are accidentally flushed into the disposal, they may become tangled in the mechanism and the disposal may require removal and disassembly.
- Don’t put hard food material into the garbage disposal. Bones or other hard objects can cause jamming and damage the cutting blades.
- Don’t ever stick your fingers or hand into the disposal, even when it’s not running. Sharp cutting blades in the mechanism can cause injury even when the unit is turned off.
- Don’t pour bleach or other corrosive liquids into garbage disposals. These substances may damage seals and even metal components of the unit. If you want to neutralize odors from a disposal, better choices are baking soda or vinegar.
- Don’t overload a garbage disposal. Dumping extreme amounts of food material into the unit all at once puts unusual stress on the motor. This can cause the motor to overheat and trip a thermal protection switch that shuts down the unit, as well as reducing the motor’s normal service life.
- Don’t turn off the disposal until all material has been ground and flushed out of the unit. Partially ground scraps that enter your plumbing may clog drain pipes.
- Don’t put liquid grease, potato peels and fibrous materials like corn husks or egg shells into garbage disposals. All of these pose a potential to damage the internal mechanism as well as cause clogs in drain pipes. Coffee grounds and materials like paper or plastic should also be disposed in normal household trash. Only bio-degradable food substances should be disposed through the garbage disposal.
For more information about the dos and don’ts of garbage disposals in Bradenton or Sarasota, contact the plumbing professionals at Aqua Plumbing & Air.
Written by John Miller
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