Garbage disposal unit
A garbage disposal unit or waste disposal unit is a device, usually electrically powered, installed under a kitchen sink between the sink's drain and the trap. The disposal unit shreds food waste into pieces small enough—generally less than 2 mm (0.079 in)—to pass through plumbing. In Canada they are commonly known as garburators.
Garbage disposal units are widely used in United States households, but far less commonly used elsewhere.
The garbage disposal was invented in 1927 by John W. Hammes, an architect working in Racine, Wisconsin. He applied for a patent in 1933 that was issued in 1935. His InSinkErator company put his disposer on the market in 1940.
In many cities in the United States in the 1930s and the 1940s, the municipal sewage system had regulations prohibiting placing food waste (garbage) into the system. InSinkErator spent considerable effort, and was highly successful in convincing many localities to rescind these prohibitions.
Many localities in the United States prohibited the use of disposers. For many years, garbage disposals were illegal in New York City because of a perceived threat of damage to the city's sewer system. After a 21-month study with the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, the ban was rescinded in 1997 by local law 1997/071, which amended section 24-518.1, NYC Administrative Code.
In 2008, the city of Raleigh, North Carolina attempted a ban on the replacement and installation of garbage disposals, which also extended to outlying towns sharing the city's municipal sewage system, but rescinded the ban one month later.
In Sweden, some municipalities encourage the installation of disposers so as to increase the production of biogas. Some local authorities in Britain subsidise the purchase of garbage disposal units in order to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill.
Food scraps range from 10% to 20% of household waste, and are a problematic component of municipal waste, creating public health, sanitation and environmental problems at each step, beginning with internal storage and followed by truck-based collection. Burned in waste-to-energy facilities, the high water-content of food scraps means that their heating and burning consumes more energy than it generates; buried in landfills, food scraps decompose and generate methane gas, which is a greenhouse gas.
The premise behind the proper use of a disposal is to effectively regard food scraps as liquid (averaging 70% water, like human waste), and use existing infrastructure (underground sewers and wastewater treatment plants) for its management. Modern wastewater plants are effective at processing organic solids into fertilizer products (known as biosolids), with advanced facilities also capturing methane for energy production.
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A high-torque, insulated electric motor, usually rated at 250–750 W (⅓ to 1 horsepower) for a domestic unit, spins a circular turntable mounted horizontally above it. Induction motors rotate at 1,400–1,800 RPM and have a range of starting torques, depending on the method of starting used. The added weight and size of induction motors may be of concern, depending on the available installation space and construction of the sink bowl. Universal motors rotate at higher speeds (about 2,800 rpm), have high starting torque, and are usually lighter, but are noisier than induction motors, partially due to the higher speeds and partially because the commutator brushes rub on the slotted commutator. Contaminated water leaking on to the commutator can lead to major damage, which is why most garbage disposals today use induction motors. The higher starting torque of those appliances with a permanent magnet motor ensures in most cases that there will be no blockage.
Inside the grinding chamber there is a rotating metal turntable onto which the food waste drops. Two swiveling metal impellers mounted on top of the plate near the edge then fling the food waste against the grind ring repeatedly. Grooves in the grind ring break down the waste until it is small enough to pass through openings in the ring, whereupon it is flushed down the drain.
Usually, there is a partial rubber closure on the top of the disposal unit to prevent food waste from flying back up out of the grinding chamber. It may also be used to attenuate noise from the grinding chamber for quieter operation. Many high-end or commercial disposals have additional blades attached beneath the turntable. The purpose of these blades is to chop up waste that would otherwise bypass the grind ring (primary stage) and clog the pipework.
There are two main types of garbage disposals — continuous feed and batch feed. Continuous feed models are used by feeding in waste after being started and are more common. Batch feed units are used by placing waste inside the unit before being started. These types of units are started by placing a specially designed cover over the opening and twisting it to allow magnets in the cover to align with magnets in the unit. Because it is covered during operation, it is quieter than continuous feed models. Small slits in the cover allow water to flow through. Batch feed models are also safer, since the top of the disposal is covered during operation, preventing foreign objects from falling in.
Waste disposal units may jam, but can usually be cleared either by forcing the turntable round from above or by turning the motor using a hex-key wrench inserted into the motor shaft from below. Very hard objects accidentally or deliberately introduced, such as metal cutlery, can damage the waste disposal unit and become damaged themselves, although recent advances have been made to minimize such damage. More problematic are drain blockages caused by shredded waste that is fibrous, e.g., artichoke leaves, or starchy, e.g., potato peelings.
Some higher-end units have an automatic reversing jam clearing feature. By using a slightly more-complicated centrifugal starting switch, the split-phase motor rotates in the opposite direction from the previous run each time it is started. This can clear minor jams, but is claimed to be unnecessary by some manufacturers: Since the late 1970s most disposal units have swivel impellers which make reversing unnecessary.
Some other kinds of garbage disposal units are powered by water pressure, rather than electricity. Instead of the turntable and grind ring described above, this alternative design has a water-powered unit with an oscillating piston with blades attached to chop the waste into fine pieces. Because of this cutting action, they can handle fibrous waste. Water-powered units take longer than electric ones for a given amount of waste and need fairly high water pressure to function properly.
Kitchen waste disposal units increase the load of organic carbon that reaches the water treatment plant, which in turn increases the consumption of oxygen. Metcalf & Eddy quantified this impact as 0.04 pound of biochemical oxygen demand per person per day where disposers are used. An Australian study that compared in-sink food processing to composting alternatives via a life cycle assessment found that while the in-sink disposal performed well with respect to climate change, acidification, and energy usage, it did contribute to eutrophication and toxicity potentials.
This may result in higher costs for energy needed to supply oxygen in secondary operations. However, if the waste water treatment is finely controlled, the organic carbon in the food may help to keep the bacterial decomposition running, as carbon may be deficient in that process. This increased carbon serves as an inexpensive and continuous source of carbon necessary for biologic nutrient removal.
One result is larger amounts of solid residue from the waste-water treatment process. According to a study at the East Bay Municipal Utility District’s wastewater treatment plant funded by the EPA, food waste produces three times the biogas as compared to municipal sewage sludge. The value of the biogas produced from anaerobic digestion of food waste appears to exceed the cost of processing the food waste and disposing of the residual biosolids (based on a LAX Airport proposal to divert 8,000 tons/year of bulk food waste.)
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.
Energy usage is not high; typically 500 - 1500 W of power is used, comparable to an electric iron, but only for a very short time, totaling approximately 3-4 kWh of electricity per household per year. Daily water usage varies, but is typically one gallon of water per person per day, comparable to an additional toilet flush. One survey of these food processing units found a slight increase in household water use.
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