Vermont food scrap landfill ban: Kitchen garbage disposals come with hidden costs

CLOSE

Convenient? Absolutely. Legal? So far, yes.

But kitchen sink disposals rank low on the list of ways Vermonters should steer their food scraps out of landfills to comply with a state law that takes effect July 1.

The local, official consensus: Remains of a meal, even ground up finely and whooshed down the pipes with water, pose expensive and even dangerous risks to wastewater treatment plants.

Instead, leftovers should disposed of in ways that more responsibly shift food scraps to compost, farm or methane-fuel operations, state experts say.

This usually involves popping the uneaten food into a tightly lidded bucket and toting the week’s accumulation to a local collection site — or paying a local hauler to cart them away.

Backyard composting is among the many options detailed by regional solid waste management districts.

‘Either way, you pay’

The added household cost of pickup or drop-off service is less than extra tax dollars spent on repairs further downstream due to kitchen disposals, according to Montpelier-based nonprofit Green Mountain Water Environment Association, a group that represents drinking water, stormwater and wastewater professionals.

Sewer overflows into rivers and lakes are other unintended consequences of kitchen convenience.

“Either way, you pay,” explained Daniel Hecht, the association’s executive director.

Nutrients from food scraps could theoretically enhance a facility’s methane production, Hecht continued, but most of that energy is squeezed from fats, oils and grease, which commonly bind up with other particles to create “fatbergs”— lumps that foul pipes and clog pumps.

The food-grinder industry, meanwhile, has ramped up efforts to sell Vermonters what it calls an easy way to meet environmental guidelines.

Earlier: Composting versus kitchen disposals in Vermont

Who is pushing for more disposals?

Some cities, notably New York City, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, have conducted studies that suggest that kitchen scraps down the drain yield environmental benefits, says Kendall Christiansen, a consultant who previously worked for InSinkErator, a Wisconsin-based manufacturer.

Sheer convenience — the the greater likelihood of compliance with landfill bans — plays an important part in those large cities’ efforts, he wrote in an email to the Free Press.

“If the goal is diversion from landfills, all options should be in play, whether or not they are perfect,” Christiansen added.

What about disposals in my town?

The future of garbage disposals in Vermont might play out on a case-by-case basis.

Cities and towns likely have the authority to endorse or limit their use, depending on the needs of the local treatment/recovery plant, said to Alyssa Eiklor, an analyst at the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.

Eiklor encourages hospitals and nursing homes — typically large users of kitchen disposals — to work closely with downstream facility operators to make sure the flow doesn’t go awry.

Springfield’s wastewater plant, for example, is set up to handle ground-up food scraps from the nearby hospital, Eiklor said.

Burlington and Essex, on the other hand, discourage residents from using the in-sink appliance.

Chittenden Solid Waste Management District, which oversees regional recycling efforts endorses that position.

So do state environmental experts. Their advice: “Don’t put food scraps down the drain.”

RELATED: Vermonters re-think kitchen scraps

Contact Joel Banner Baird at 802-660-1843 or joelbaird@freepressmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @VTgoingUp.

This coverage is only possible with support from our readers. Sign up today for a subscription to the Burlington Free Press.

Read or Share this story: https://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/news/2020/06/18/kitchen-garbage-disposals-legal-but-have-hidden-costs-vermont/3212730001/