Why Do (or Don’t) You Need A Garbage Disposal?

Garbage disposal
Sourced: Twnety20

There’s a particular convenience of scraping leftovers from dishes directly into the sink and allowing a garbage disposal unit to grind it all down. Read on to find out why you might need a garbage disposal. 

1. Pro: Convenience

One of the main reasons why homeowners and renters prefer garbage disposal is the convenience that the appliance offers. When operated with running water and flushed properly, disposal allows small amounts of food debris to be scraped directly into the kitchen sink rather than tossed in the trash can. This, in turn, significantly reduces the amount of trash stored until pickup day.  That said, your municipality may impose limitations in terms of water usage and septic or sewer capacity. 

The convenience of disposals extends to faster and easier cleaning of plates. Rather than have to move your dishes from the sink to the trash can to scrape off food waste, you can just dump the scraps down the drain, grind it up, and call it a day.

2. Cons: Specific use

Despite its name, a garbage disposal should not dispose of non-biodegradable items and certain types of food scraps to prevent clogs. Here are some of the foods to keep out of your garbage disposal:

  • Starchy foods such as rice, pasta, and bread
  • Fibrous foods such as kale, artichoke, and celery
  • Hard shells from seafood like clams, oysters, and lobsters
  • Oil, grease, and fat
  • Potato skins
  • Onion skins 

3. Pro: Easy to operate and maintain

Garbage disposal
Sourced: Twenty20

Garbage disposals are relatively easy to operate and maintain as long as you follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Once everyone in your household understands how to handle your garbage disposal properly, problems should be few and far between.

4. Pro: Protects kitchen drains

When you have a pile of dishes in your sink with bits of leftover food stuck on them, it can be tempting to scrape everything down the drain rather than go to the trouble of carrying the dirty plates to the trash can. However, over time, these food scraps can accumulate in your plumbing and contribute to blockages. Garbage disposal allows you to grind down food scraps into small particles before flushing them down your pipes, reducing clogs.

5. Cons: Prone to clogs and jams

Jams and clogs are some of the most significant issues that garbage disposal users have to deal with regularly. If you accidentally put the wrong type of food or try to flush too much food down your garbage disposal, it will likely jam. Sometimes all you need to do is press the reset button to get your disposal to work again. If this doesn’t work, you can try unclogging it yourself or call a professional plumber.

6. Pro: Inexpensive

The average garbage disposal will run you between $100 and $250. If you’re familiar with basic plumbing, you can install a garbage disposal yourself. Even if you seek the services of a plumber, installing disposal is a routine and relatively low-cost job that won’t cause too big a dent in your finances. If you use and maintain your garbage disposal properly, you will get anywhere between 6 and 10 years of use out of it.

7. Pro: Reduces landfill waste

Garbage disposal
Sourced: Twenty20

Food waste makes up an estimated 20% of all household trash in the United States. When food scraps are buried in landfills, they can’t decompose properly and therefore end up becoming a significant source of methane. By using the garbage disposal and environmentally-friendly decomposing methods like composting, the amount of trash sent to landfills can be significantly reduced.

8. Cons: Can be dangerous

There is a risk of injuries when you have a garbage disposal, especially if you’re reckless or have a child in the house. Make a point of teaching everyone in your household how to use the disposal unit to help avoid this issue properly. It might also be worth investing in garbage disposal with a magnetic cover to help guard against potential injuries. 

9. Pro: Cuts down on odor

Having a garbage disposal can help cut down on odors in your trash cans because you don’t have to deal with rotting food waste. For renters and homeowners with monthly or bi-weekly trash pickup, this can mean a large amount of food waste is left to rot and stink up the trash cans. The smell can attract pests or even wild animals that may tear through the garbage searching for discarded food. 

10. Pro: Sanitary

In-sink garbage disposals deliver a quick way of doing away with food scrap, which can help improve sanitary levels in your kitchen, especially if you don’t have enough space to compost your food scraps.

11. Cons: Prone to unpleasant odors

In the same manner that disposal units help prevent foul odor, they can also cause unpleasant smells. Even when you use your garbage disposal correctly, some food particles can still linger along the blade and inner lining, and as they decay, they eventually start to smell. 

To prevent this, clean your disposal unit at least once a week. You can use baking soda or citrusy products to deodorize it.

12. Pro: They work almost everywhere

Garbage disposals are suitable for use with almost any sewage system, including septic tanks and municipal sewers. If you have a septic tank, make sure your disposal unit is correctly sized and regularly maintained. It might be ideal to have a professional plumber install it to ensure that you have the right size for your septic tank.

The infrastructure of some older municipal sewage systems might not be able to handle food particles being flushed down the piping. If you live in an area with dated sewage systems, make a point of checking with your local water authority or waste management before installing a disposal unit.

How does a garbage disposal work?

Garbage disposal
Sourced: Twenty20

Garbage disposal is a unit mounted to the underside of a sink to collect solid food waste in a grinding chamber. A spinning disc, otherwise known as an impeller plate, turns rapidly when you turn it on. This quick motion forces the food waste against a shredder ring (also known as a grinding ring) that circles the interior of the grinding chamber. As the food scraps are pulverized into tiny bits, water from the kitchen faucets flushes them through holes in the grinding ring, out of the grinding chamber, and into the drain pipe.

How to choose a garbage disposal

It’s easy to figure out which garbage disposal is best for you if you consider how important the following factors are to you:

1. The components of the design

The classic version of the garbage disposal features little more than a plastic casing containing a motor connected to a metal grinding plate with impellers that help pulverize the food scraps. A perforated grinding ring surrounds the metal plate. While the impellers speed up the grinding process, they’re not as sharp as the blades found in a blender; instead, the spinning plate pushes the food against the grinding ring, which has a textured surface that breaks down the food waste. 

2. The feed type

There are two main types of garbage disposals:

  • Continuous feed – These are the most commonly available type, and are generally the easiest to use. They have an open-mouth design, and you can turn them on and off with a wall switch.
  • Batch feed – These require you to fit a stopper lid into the mouth of the unit to activate it. That way, it’s impossible to turn on the garbage disposal while your hand is inside the unit.

3. Grinding chamber

Garbage disposals with smaller motors typically have smaller grinding chambers because they have limited power and torque to crush the food waste. Contrarily, units that feature higher-HP engines may have larger chambers because they can handle more food waste.

4. Motor size

The motor size of garbage disposal is rated in horsepower (HP). The electrical motors on residential disposal units typically range from ⅓ to 1 HP.

  • ⅓ horsepower – The lowest horsepower disposal units available on the market are ⅓. Although they seem to offer good value, their functionality is quite limited. Appliances with this motor size get easel jammed and usually feature the cheapest internal components, which tend to rust out relatively quickly. You should consider this option only for limited or temporary use. Costs for these units typically range from $50 to $100.
  • ½ horsepower – This is the minimum horsepower you should choose for typical home use. These units are smaller in size than ¾ HP and 1 HP units, which makes them ideal for tight spaces. You’ll want to go for a ½ HP disposal if you don’t plan to use your appliance all the time. The noise level for these units tends to be quite high. It’s also important to run plenty of water from the kitchen faucet with these units to help flush all the food scraps down the drain. Take care not to overfeed these garbage disposals to avoid jams and clogs. Costs for these units typically range from $75 to $125.
  • ¾ horsepower – Most kitchens benefit from disposal units with this motor size. At this size, a garbage disposal is less prone to jamming, and also comes with a host of useful features. Stainless steel grind components, for example, offer a much longer life. Also, most disposal with this motor size will offer more sound protection, so they tend to run quieter than ½ horsepower units. A potential downside of these appliances is that they are physically larger than the ½ horsepower unit, which makes them less than ideal if you don’t have much room under your sink. Costs for these units typically range from $125 to $200.
  • 1 horsepower – Most 1 HP disposal models have better insulation, which means that they’re quieter than ¾ Hp units. All disposals with this motor size should have more capacity for waste in the chamber, feature complete stainless steel in the grinding chamber, and be almost impossible to jam. Costs for these units typically range from $150 to $300.

5. Noise

While there’s no standard sound rating system for disposal units, bigger garbage disposals tend to run quieter ones. Manufacturers manage noise with solid construction and by incorporating insulation around the grinding chamber.

Final thoughts 

Each household has its unique circumstances that would merit using or not using a garbage disposal. There are many benefits to having one, but you should also take into consideration the downsides. If you conclude that you need one, consider the tips listed above to help you choose the most suitable model.

Zoltan Szatmari

Zoltan is a test and industrial engineer from Europe who loves learning anything new and working on small projects. When he is not working, he is usually hiking or going to the cinema.

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