Think about your effect on the planet. Organic-food substances, such as these, that you might put through a disposal would likely decompose quickly, and with less environmental impact, in a landfill. But the best use for such foods is to use them for compost, since they biodegrade easily. / Florida Food & Farm file photo

By Jackie Edwards

Reducing environmental impact means reconsidering most aspects of your life. Every choice you make can help, or hurt, the planet around you. Adjusting your daily lifestyle — especially your consumption of resources such as food, water and energy — is critical to reducing your overall impact.

If you are considering how your waste disposal unit, also known as a garbage disposal, impacts the planet, that probably means you are already taking steps to reduce your environmental impact. If you’re already working to reduce food waste, that’s a great first step. (For more information, visit

While you may think that using a waste disposal unit reduces your impact, it may actually increase it. There are several important factors to consider when determining whether you should install a waste disposal unit.

Reducing landfill contributions isn’t the only concern

Waste disposal units seem like a great idea. After all, they cut down on how much you send to the landfill. Unfortunately, that is a poor benchmark for determining impact. Reducing what you send to the landfill is important, but there are other considerations regarding your environmental impact. Organic-food substances that you put through a disposal would most likely decompose quickly in a landfill environment.

More importantly, there is a lot of waste that goes into running a garbage disposal. You must run the water and use electricity to run the unit. Then there are the resources that go into building these devices. Metals, wiring and energy for manufacturing all affect your environmental footprint. Skipping the garbage disposal is probably a good idea if you are remodeling your kitchen.

Consider the impact on local water and sewer systems

Beyond the energy and resource consumption, there is also the effect on local water and sewer systems (see While most municipal water systems are built to handle some organic waste, using a garbage disposal can tax the sewer system unnecessarily. This can lead to clogs in the sewer system that can affect your home and nearby areas (see More importantly, when the organic matter reaches the plant, it often ends up headed to the landfill anyway.

Composting is the ideal for most natural waste

The ideal solution for food waste is composting (see If you own your own home, you may have the option of building a compost bin or using a closed composting system in the city. Compost is a great way to take care of any natural-state food items — except for meats and dairy products.

Foods that have been cooked or that include fat and salt don’t belong in your compost. Not only will they smell bad and attract vermin, but they can also kill your soil as the salts accumulate in the compost. Prepared-food items and seasoned-food items should probably just go in the trash.

Reducing your dependence on a waste disposal unit is one good step toward decreased environmental impact. If you already have a unit in your home, using it occasionally isn’t entirely problematic. If yours isn’t working or you are deciding whether to install one, remember that they aren’t the most environmentally friendly option. Choosing to split your waste between compost and your local municipal trash system is your most environmentally friendly option.

Jackie Edwards began her career in health and safety, concentrating on environmental waste and pollution. Now a working mom, she focuses on research and on writing articles that help to make our homes cleaner, greener and safer to live in — while saving money.