Garbage Disposals and Worms Face Off Over Environmental Food Waste Disposal
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Composting and waste-to-energy are winners in a new study of food disposal options. I have been having a lot of fun feeding worms my garbage. We have something you could either call a "worm bin" or a "home vermicomposting system," and we throw our... >Most of this trashed food goes straight to landfills, where it releases huge quantities of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. A new study looks at several ways in which food waste is processed, and identifies environmentally preferable options. New environmental analysis bankrolled by food disposal maker The analysis, commissioned by the manufacturer of InSinkErator food disposal systems and performed by independent research group PE International, looked at 12 common ways that municipalities deal with food waste and compared their environmental impacts, including global warming potential (GWP), energy use, and likely effects on soil, water, and air quality. The study takes into account the cradle-to-grave life cycle of associated equipment (trash cans and bags, garbage disposals, etc.) but does not appear to consider water use--an apparent oversight, considering that garbage disposals require running water before, during, and after use. Composting and waste-to-energy are winners Although several water treatment options require more energy than landfills, garbage disposals come out looking quite good compared with landfills in terms of GWP and direct effects on soil, water, and air quality. Even the most energy-intensive methods of wastewater treatment weigh in at half the GWP of landfilling. However, composting--not the backyard scrap pile, but centrally located "advanced" composting--and waste-to-energy had miniscule energy and GWP impacts compared with most wastewater treatment options. Composting is not without issues, however, including the second-highest smog potential among the 12 methods considered. Food disposals better than landfill Based on this study's findings, a garbage disposal is not necessarily the most environmentally friendly way to deal with wasted food, even as InSinkErator often argues for its benefits. However, the study indicates that if your only two options are the trash can or a garbage disposal, the garbage disposal is a safer bet in terms of greenhouse gases and most other environmental impacts, despite its greater energy use. Fortunately, a growing number of people have more choices than landfill or garbage disposal. For example, folks in our municipality here can compost in the backyard, or if that's not your cup of tea, you could consider dropping your waste, including paper food containers and other items for "advanced composting" with the solid waste management district. My favorite option, though, is definitely letting worms eat my garbage. I just love watching those little worms canoodle. Tristan Roberts is Editorial Director at BuildingGreen, Inc., in Brattleboro, Vermont, which publishes information on green building solutions.