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When I was a kid on the farm, one of my jobs was to toss table food scraps to the dogs and cats. Things like vegetable scraps went into a large, covered pail, and in time was fed to the chickens. The large pail was heavy and not a lot of fun to carry about a block to the chickens. Complaining wasn’t an option in those days, and besides, it was one of the many things I did to earn an allowance.

Years later, my homes in Lincoln lacked luxuries like a dishwasher or garbage disposal. Food wastes were tossed in a garbage can. I soon discovered rotting food waste in garbage cans gets fairly rank in a few days; especially without air conditioning. I also learned that food in the kitchen garbage can attracted mice, and food in the outdoor garbage cans attracted raccoons. What a mess!

As newlyweds, Deb and I were excited our first home had a garbage disposal for food wastes. We soon found out the garbage disposal was slightly better than nothing. It basically defaced the food and sent it down the galvanized piping that was old and sized too small. Of course, the kitchen drain line plugged. Another lesson from the school of hard knocks!

Today, incredible garbage disposal choices are available to reduce plugging risks when disposing of food wastes. There are also some fairly bad choices to avoid. A good rule of thumb is you get what you pay for.

Disposal noise levels typically range from 45 to 105 decibels. Cheaper disposals are smaller and noisier. They are not insulated as well. They are especially noisy when attached to stainless steel sinks. Avoid cheap disposals!

The most important consideration is the better you grind and liquefy the food wastes, the better your odds of avoiding plugged kitchen drain piping. The best solution is to get a high-quality garbage disposal that liquefies food wastes close to a consistency of thick orange juice. The hidden cost when purchasing a disposal is in future cabling needed to clear the kitchen sink piping.

Most food products can go down the garbage disposal, although it’s wise to avoid putting large quantities of fats, oils and grease down the drain. They can build up and plug in time.

Coffee grounds and eggshells need to be fed into the disposal slowly with a strong flow of cold water to help flush these wastes through the pipes.

Disposals typically last 8 to 10 years. The question is when will they fail, not if they will fail. They occasionally give warning signs like unusual noises or jam. Most of the time they just quit.

Even if disposals are still running, motor bearings and seals wear out, causing leaks. Leaks under a kitchen sink are often not detected until there is damage to materials stored and the cabinet. Blades also get dull and increase the odds of sewer piping blockages. It makes sense to replace disposals before they cause problems.

Residential disposals range from 1/3 to 2 horsepower (HP). The best consumer choice in 2019 was the InSinkErator Garbage Disposal, Evolution Excel, 1.0 HP Continuous Feed. The next best choice was the InSinkErator Garbage Disposal, Evolution Compact, 3/4 HP Continuous Feed. Both of these great quality disposals finely grind food. John Henry's has these in stock.

Forget the old beliefs of not sending food down the drain. According to Chin Lim, sanitary engineer at the Lincoln Water Resource Recovery Facilities, “The Theresa Street and Northeast Lincoln treatment facilities are equipped with anaerobic digestors that are capable of breaking down finely ground food waste and produce biogas (methane). The methane produced at the Theresa Street facility is captured and used to fire 2 enginators (internal combustion engines) to generate electricity while the methane produced at the Northeast Lincoln facility is flared off.”

Mr. Lim also stated, “it is better environmentally to process food wastes at the treatment plant, where the biogas (methane) generated at the digestors are readily captured as compared to the landfill, where a lot of methane gas is emitted to the atmosphere.”

We are fortunate to live in the City of Lincoln, which has taken a progressive approach environmentally. Few other communities have advanced this far. Thanks, Lincoln!

The bottom line is this: Using a quality food waste grinder to liquefy our food wastes is the right thing to do environmentally. It’s the easiest way to get rid of food wastes.

Disposing of food wastes has come a long way.

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L Magazine editor

Mark Schwaninger is L magazine and Neighborhood Extra editor.

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