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Garbage disposers: green buying guide 10/10
(This article is adapted from the August 2009 Consumer Reports magazine.)

Green recommendations

Garbage disposers link the often disparate demands of convenience and conservation by grinding up kitchen scraps and sending them down the drain to a sewage-treatment plant or septic system for decomposition.

Besides eliminating messes and discouraging bugs and other pests, a disposer shifts food waste from landfills to a waste-water treatment system. That scenario has prompted some cities, such as Denver and Indianapolis, to require disposers in new homes. Add in the many towns that charge by volume for waste removal, and it's easy to see why nearly half of American homes have a garbage disposer.

Manufacturers are promoting their appeal as they try to distinguish these basically similar machines. Indeed, just a handful of companies make all garbage disposers under different brand names, with InSinkErator accounting for the lion's share.

Garbage disposers also have an ecological downside. Depending on where you live, a disposer's additional water use and its extra burden on sewer and septic systems may outweigh the landfill space it conserves.

How to Choose

To see how well individual models work, check the Consumer Reports recommendations and ratings for garbage disposers (available to subscribers).

Whichever type of disposer you consider, first check whether your community allows disposers. Some don't. You also may have to upgrade your plumbing and septic tank and be prepared for a higher water bill.

See Garbage Disposers: Trimming Your Waste and Consider All Costs (available to subscribers) for more on disposer design, performance, and operating costs.


Even if your community allows disposers, using one may cost you more than you think. Before buying a disposer, answer these questions:

• Is a garbage disposer appropriate in my area? If you use a municipal sewer system, call your local sewer authority to find out its disposer policy. Some require a permit to use one, while others discourage them because of limited water and sewer capacity.

• Is my septic tank big enough? Your municipality may require an upgrade if you use a garbage disposer. Consult the local building inspector or environmental health official. Alternatively, you may need to empty the existing tank more frequently.

• Is the plumbing up to the task? Don't install a garbage disposer if plumbing clogs or backups are frequent, since a disposer's added waste can make both more likely. Have a problem septic system fixed, emptied, or enlarged before buying a garbage disposer.

• Is the extra water use worth it? Figure on roughly 2 gallons of water per minute for most sinks, or about 700 gallons per year based on minute-per-day use. Besides potentially increasing your water bill, a disposer's added consumption is a concern in drought areas.

Related links

Make short work of garbage 8/09

Energy saving & green living guide

Copyright © 2003-2012 by Consumers Union of United States., Inc., 101 Truman Avenue, Yonkers, NY 10703, a nonprofit organization. No downloading, transmission, photocopying, or commercial use permitted. Visit www.GreenerChoices.org.