Marianne Schaefer in Bricks & Bucks on September 13, 2017
New York City is working to eliminate all shipments to landfills by the year 2030. But organic waste – eggshells, coffee grounds, steak bones, and such – accounts for about one-third of the city’s 1 million tons of yearly residential waste, and the majority of it is still being sent to landfills, where it generates methane, a greenhouse gas.
To help reduce the flow to landfills, the city’s Department of Sanitation (DSNY) is aggressively expanding its pickup of organic waste, both at curbside and at designated drop-off centers. Nearly 1 million New Yorkers are already participating, with an additional 2 million expected to sign on this year. The city’s goal is to make organics recycling available to every city resident by the end of 2018. The organic matter is either composted and delivered to community gardens, farms, and city tree pits, or it is converted into biogas, primarily methane and carbon dioxide. Biogas can be used to power trucks and buses, or converted into heat and electricity.
But the collection, composting and redistribution of all those tons of organic waste is a costly process. And there’s a simple way to short-circuit it: the lowly food-waste grinder in the kitchen sink, which is making a comeback in New York City.
“It’s now an amenity in many high-end condos,” says Kendall Christiansen, a Brooklyn-based consultant who works with businesses on their waste-management and recycling efforts. “It’s simple, it’s hygienic, and it keeps organics out of the landfills. People have the tendency to flush food scraps down the toilet, which will cause costly clogging in the pipes.”
Food-waste grinders cost between $100 and $500, with installation up to $600, according to Phil Kraus, president of Fred Smith Plumbing & Heating, who has years of experience installing grinders. Though the machines’ economic and environmental benefits are undeniable, Kraus says most of his customers want them for a different reason: “Convenience.”
First developed in the 1920s, food-waste grinders were banned in New York City in the 1970s over concerns about the aging sewer system and the discharge of organic refuse into rivers. The ban was lifted in 1997, when the city council legalized food grinders for non-commercial use. Restaurants are still forbidden from using them.
“Studies have shown that there’s nothing to worry about,” Christiansen says. “Food is mostly water. You grind your food scraps with just a little bit of cold or warm water and then it goes through the pipes to one of New York City’s 14 waste-water treatment facilities.”
Those facilities produce three things: clean water, which is released into the rivers and streams; odorless slush that is dried and made into a fertilizer substance called biosolids; and biogas.
“In the current building cycle, most developers are putting them in because customers are expecting it,” Christiansen says. “Battery Park City made them a requirement in their last six residential buildings, which are super green. Co-op and condo boards should talk to their plumber and get a demonstration.”
Miroslav Salon is resident manager at the Verdesian, a 252-unit luxury rental building in Battery Park City, where most residents feed their organic waste into brown bins for thrice-weekly pickup by the city’s Department of Sanitation. When the building was built in 2006, all of the kitchen sinks were able to accommodate InSinkErator grinders. Many residents have since had one installed. “Some people do both [recycling and grinding],” Salon says. “We don’t have any issues with the grinders. They work fine.”
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