Photo: Breaking up with your garburator

"After a little perseverance, six sales associates, four children wanting to also buy a large inflatable snow globe for the lawn, one phone call and two Home Depot stores, we arrived back at home with our handsome new composter." (Credit: Melanie Smith)

Flash back to 70s or 80s kitchen décor. What do you see? Perhaps an intricate linoleum floor pattern (lino is very eco-friendly, by the way, made from a combo of linseed oil, flax, jute, cork powder, wood flour, and natural pigments) or maybe an in-sink garburator (aka garbage disposal). If you think using the latter "feeds the fish", you're mistaken.

November 2010 019.jpg

I came face-to-sink with a garburator in the Smiths' Alberta kitchen. Before I could say anything, Mr. Smith asked me "How eco-friendly is garburating anyways?" I whipped out my handy syndicated column, perfect for just such occasions. (See my answer in the Metro.)

Toronto, Ontario has banned garburators altogether, because in the oldest parts of the city, homes have combined water and waste sewers. High nitrogen levels create problems when food waste ends up in the lake.

Other reasons for retiring an existing garburator or not adding one to a new build or renovation is the additional energy they require and the perfectly good drinking water they use to get rid of organic waste.

I've developed quite an email relationship with the City of St. Albert's Environmental Coordinator since starting my 'green the Smiths' project, I asked her if they had a ban or policy when it came to in-sink garbage disposal. Here's what she said, "The City definitely discourages the use of kitchen garburators, however they are not banned. Kitchen garburators increase the amount of organic material in the service lines, which can stick to the lines over time and cause blockages. In addition, like you said, they put unnecessary strain on the sanitary sewer system. One of the engineers at the City explained it in an interesting way — he said that when we use gaburators we put clean, useable material into a system where it needs to be cleaned and treated. Doesn't make sense, right? Anyway, compost is a preferred means of disposal."

And there you have it: backyard composting 1; garburators 0. Of course either option is preferable to throwing organic waste into the landfill.

After many funny looks from hardware sales people, the Smiths bought their very first composter — in November! What tips and tricks do you suggest to help them keep turning their kitchen waste into black gold even during the coldest winter months?

Lindsay Coulter, Queen of Green

November 29, 2010

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Feb 15, 2017
12:11 PM

Bokashi composting is great solution for composting at home. You can compost all of your food waste (including meat, bones and cooked food) without foul odors and without attracting pests.

Lots of information and all the supplies you need to get started here:

Nov 19, 2016
12:09 PM

I will be buying a “garburator” in the near future to further reduce the volume of waste I put out. In the City of Barrie, the sewage treatment plant collects biogas from the anaerobic digestion of sewage. This is used to generate electricity on site which, in turn, powers the sewage treatment plant. In addition, the waste heat from the reciprocating engine (an adapted diesel) warms the incoming sewage to speed the digestion process. If this heat was not available, the City would have to burn natural gas to do the job. The plant is now installing a methane storage tank so it can completely avoid flaring gas it cannot use at any particular moment. It should then be able to sell some electricity to the grid. Meanwhile, if I was to put our my kitchen scraps for the City garbage trucks to collect, it would be shipped to an outdoor composting facility in Arthur, Ontario, 125km away from here! I absolutely refuse to do this! I compost most of my kitchen waste in a pair of rotary composters, but cannot do this with bones.

Apr 09, 2016
12:12 PM

Its not really a clear cut issue.

Some local authorities in Britain subsidise the purchase of garbage disposal units in order to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill.

In Sweden, some municipalities encourage the installation of disposers so as to increase the production of biogas.

In a study at the Hyperion (Los Angeles) sewage treatment works, disposer use showed minimal to no impact on the total biosolids byproduct from sewage treatment and similarly minimal impact on handling processes as the high volatile solids destruction (VSD) from food waste yield a minimum amount of solids in residue.

Oct 06, 2015
7:40 AM

In order to fix that problem one should first think about their waste and how to reduce it to a minimum! There is a waste management problem around the globe and unless we start reducing our waste on a local level, we wont minimize it globally! With or without garburator, the most important thing is to teach people how to go for a zero waste lifestyle. Greetings, Rubbish Clearance Richmond Upon Thames Ltd.

Jun 24, 2015
9:35 AM

Mitzi, Do NOT use a a garbage disposal with a septic tank and drainfield. The fibrous material does not break down well and will fill and block your septic tank and drainfield. I worked for a Regional Health Department that designed and approved onsite septic systems for homes and businesses outside of the sewered areas in the County. We always told builders not to install garbage disposals in homes and businesses that would be utilizing a septic system.

Feb 11, 2015
3:31 PM

Hi All. Yes. I’m now semiretired and looking to do the right stuff for the environment. My respects to David Suzuki. I’d appreciate his thoughts and educational materials. Cheers. Robin

Oct 03, 2014
8:03 PM

Having a worm composter or two will definitely take care of all your fruit and vegetable scraps. Those busy little wrigglers munch away and you’re left with lovely “black gold” soil for potted plants, balcony containers or even community garden plots.,

Jul 20, 2014
7:16 PM

Garburators are perfectly fine in Toronto per this bylaw:

You are not permitted to install or operate garburators or garbage disposals / garbage grinders if you discharge directly or indirectly into a storm or combined sewer. You are permitted to install or operate garburators or garbage disposals if you discharge to the sanitary sewer. Toronto Water recommends, however, that residents use backyard composting and/or the Green Bin Program to dispose of organic materials.

Toronto Municipal Code — Chapter 681, Section 10 E Section E. Garbage grinders No person shall install or operate within the City any garbage grinding devices for domestic purposes, the effluent from which will discharge directly or indirectly into a storm or combined sewer. In the case of industrial, commercial or institutional properties where garbage grinding devices are installed in accordance with the Building Code, the effluent from such garbage grinding devices must comply with 681-2.

Jun 29, 2013
8:17 PM

I did lots of research and found that the “InSinkErator Evolution Pro Essential 3/4 HP Garbage Disposer” is one of the top models out there.

Jun 20, 2013
5:21 PM

Living in rural BC, I have been composting for years. There has been more than one occasion that I have arrived home to find a bear in the yard trying to get in. Also crows and racoons and who knows what else.
We are renovating our kitchen and I thought Garburator! That would solve that problem nicely. What I wonder is: How will it effect my septic system? (We have a very large tank, enought for two households, even thought we are 3 people How noisy are they, and who makes the best models? If it just doesn’t make sense to get the garburator, we will probobly go with an undercounter compost pail and revamp our outside composter, tried worms in the basement, but that got ugly.

Comments and advise welcome!

Feb 23, 2013
5:44 PM

Indoor composting with red wrigglers is a great solution for people who don’t have a yard. A friend of mine made me a starter kit with worms from her bin and some bedding. One of these days I’ll make a starter kit for someone else. Pay it forward! :)

Jan 17, 2013
1:51 PM

Sadly, many people in Winnipeg, Manitoba think they’re doing a good thing when using their insink garburators. What actually happens is the organic waste travels through the sewer system to the wastewater treatment plant and lands up being part of the boisolids that is then trucked all the way across the City to the Landfill. The same place that the organic waste would have landed up if it was just thrown in the garbage. The Province banned the use of the biosolids (organic waste) on fields. For Winnipeggers, they’re wasting fresh drinking water and adding to the already rapidly increasing costs for sewage treatment for something that would be a lot cheaper to just throw in the garbage or even better…to make their own nutrient rich compost for their yards and gardens.

Dec 14, 2012
7:19 AM

Composting works for some, but here in the North, where we have wildlife problems, ie bears, we are discouraged from using composter, bird feeders and the like. Then someone came out with the bright idea of “plastic” green bins for composting for the garbage.. So we are back to Wildlife accessing these portable lunchboxes. Plastic is so toxic if you think in terms of environment and someone is producing these babies. Food waste ending up in landfill sites ( we already KNOW that most of the blue box recycables products do) So I think a garburator is a fantastic idea. No bugs, no unwanted wildlife and no filling up the landfill. The food is going down the drain anyway, but not in chunks.

May 15, 2012
11:05 AM

Waste of water? Gimme a break, look at the water that gets wasted flushing the toilet, a garburetor uses way less than that.

The way I see it I'd rather have the sewage treatment plant handle small bits of food and waster, which is what it's designed to do, then waste the energy and pollution of trucks picking the stuff up and maybe (or maybe not) composting it properly.

Sure backyard composting is an option, if you have a big enough property and can ward off the raccoons, skunks, etc., and don't mind the mass of fruit flies that moves in while it waits to go out. I have that going as well but nothing beats the convenience of the always-hungry beast under the sink.

Apr 30, 2012
11:16 AM

So much solid food goes down the average sink every week anyway. At least with a garburator the food that makes it into the drain gets mulched up — btw most non European dishwashers have garburators in them.

If one uses a garburator for nothing more than stray organic waste that goes down the sink then I see nothing wrong with having one. On the other hand, using a garburator as a compost bin is another story.

So glad Toronto has a green bin for compost.

Aug 15, 2011
12:49 PM

@ Seva There are other options as well, seperate collection by an organic waste company:

or on-site mechanical composting. video

or take it to your nearby Community Garden! You and your neighbours can choose the option best for you.

@ Robert The City of Edmonton has banned oversized garbage cans. You can still buy them (there is no law against ignorance), but it won’t be emptied and you may just get a fine if you continue to use it for household waste put-out.

Apr 18, 2011
9:24 AM

i appreciate your blog, as you (as many do) proved the information on the web is only as good as those who provide it. i guess you could say garbage in is garbage out.

pls note that i did not take the time to research the thousands of bylaws in the city of toronto, however i am quite sure that garbage disposals are not banned in the city of toronto, as they are readily available in every home renovation box and plumbing store in the city.

i know this to be true as i just replaced my unit this morning.

now would all these retailers risk any fines or the possibility of product seizure of their shelves. i think not.

long live the garburator!!!!!

Dec 14, 2010
12:45 PM

@ Seva worm bins work for apartment dwellers and makes beautiful potting spoil. Kids (generally) love them too.

I heap compost (a benefit of a big back yard). The snow covers up the nastiness, and it actually works really well (with very little effort).

Dec 09, 2010
6:34 PM

Hi there I m Jaime and I work at “Onatrio Place” in Toronto Ontario. To make a long story super short the last couple of years I have put together a waste diversion plan for the park and we launched it this year. I chose to compost our organics on site to use in our gardens instead of shipping it anywhere. Since Aug we have composted over 7000 lbs of organic waste and we’re doing it all year round. The key to winter composting in my opnion is a proper carbon to nitrogen waste. Carbons are your leaf, paper towel, sawdust, straw, newspaper and so on. Nitrogen is your food, plant, grass clippings. By layering a 3 to 1 ratio ( 3 being your carb and 1 or nitro) your compost will “cook”. We’re at -9 in Toronto but my compost thermometer is reading +60 (please note most compost thermometers are in fahrenheit — but definitely pick one up for about $20. The kids can monitor the progress and get involved, the compost therms will actually have what that temp means for your progress right on it). A trick to accelerate the cooking process is adding small bag of cheap dog food once you get a good amount of waste in there. Also since the bin is plastic and black if you leave it out where the sun can get it it’ll help it along. NO MEAT waste, it’ll stink once the weather heats up. Here and there get a stick or shovel and move it around to get some air in there and adding a little water helps it too. Sorry this was long and best of luck. Oh you can add a worm bin for indoor composting and….okay I ll stop I ll stop. Jaime

Dec 09, 2010
6:30 PM

The problem I have with the “garburator = bad, composting = good” story is that practically, composting only works for people living in houses. As I, and many many tens of thousands like me, live in a Vancouver condo, composting is hardly an option for us. Arguably, as a condo dweller, I already use a lot less energy and resources than a person living in a detached house.

What I am curious about, however, is whether it is better to throw food waste in the regular garbage or into the garburator?

Dec 09, 2010
3:59 PM

Garburators should have been banned as soon as the idea was thought of. Drinking water used to flush down chewed up bits is a serious waste not even including the electrical requirements. Composting is the best solution but having the food waste end up in the landfill is better than down the drain at a much higher cost. Drinking water is used far too much for wasteful purposes. Did you know that most large cities in Canada do not allow the use of collected rain water for flushing of toilets? You must use the city supplied water which makes them more money and has been treated and additives added. Does that make any sense?

Dec 08, 2010
5:26 PM

Edmonton has centralized composting, so any food waste thrown in the domestic garbage is diverted from the landfill anyway.

If a municipality’s sanitary sewer can’t handle the nitrogen load from food waste, what does it do with human waste? It sounds like Toronto has a sewage treatment problem, rather than a garburator problem.

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