Disposal vs. Landfill

Pamela B Puckett, PE

Pamela B Puckett, PE

Do you ever stand at your kitchen sink, plate in hand, and wonder if the food you’re about to wash off the plate should go down the disposal or into the garbage can? I always thought that the disposal was best – less landfill space – right? Well, my brother-in-law was visiting at Christmas and he said “stop – you’re not throwing that down the disposal, are you? It’s bad for the receiving stream.” I said “Hmm – I’ve never heard that”. But of course, I threw it in the trash as I didn’t want to argue…especially on Christmas Day!


A few days later I did what all of us do when we need to know something – I Googled it! There were numerous articles regarding landfill vs disposal. However, the absolute best way to dispose of garbage is in a compost pile. My parents enjoyed gardening both vegetables and flowers and had a BIG compost pile. But, I didn’t inherit their green thumb; my favorite plants are fake plants because I can’t kill them!


So, if, like me, you aren’t a gardener, or simply don’t have the time or space for composting – which is best? The articles/resources I read seem to all agree that compost if you can, use the disposal if you must, and unless absolutely necessary, DON’T put organic waste into the trash.  


According to the EPA, when organic waste is disposed in a landfill it rots and becomes a significant source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.


A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) was commissioned by InSinkErator, a manufacturer of food waste disposers.  In the LCA analysis, a community of 30,000 households, using wastewater treatment options to dispose of food waste instead of landfilling, would reduce the carbon footprint, on average, by 1.9million kg, the equivalent of not driving 4.6 million miles.
The most interesting thing I learned from doing a little research is that, like everything in life – the answer is not always clear cut.  There are many factors to consider: the amount of water used, the health of the receiving stream, methane generation and its capture, the ability of a wastewater treatment plants to convert food scraps into renewable energy through anaerobic digestion, etc.


In the end, most experts agree that, all things considered, it’s best to use the disposal vs. a landfill.  But, if we are really serious about doing what’s best for the environment, and our communities, we need to be informed. We need to know where our effluent goes and what the best method of disposal for is for that particular service area. To find out where your sewage is treated, you can contact your city’s Public Works Department or your MUD operator if you are not in a city. Those same resources should be able to give you information on whether you should use the disposal or the landfill! Maybe we can ask our utility operators (either City or MUD) to put that info on our bills!

Pamela B Puckett, PE

Topics: Waste Water , General Interest

Written by Pamela B Puckett, PE