Casting a critical eye over the kitchen waste disposal unit

Waste or resource? To gurgle, or not to gurgle?
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Waste or resource? To gurgle, or not to gurgle?

OPINION: The kitchen sink has become a bit of a conundrum.

Or more particularly, the insinkerator has become an object of discord.

I am conflicted about whether having one, much less actually using it, makes me a bad person.

Some of us grew up without such appliances.

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In earlier times, there was not much food waste allowed in the first place, with children urged to finish everything on their plate before getting down from the table.

Leftovers were stored in the fridge to be freshened up and served again or turned into stock or soup before finally being acknowledged as no longer good to eat.

Scrapings and peelings were collected for delivery to the compost heap, if not to feed to the chooks.

Anything too whiffy for the compost was incinerated in the little coal burner, familiarly known as the destructor in our house, that heated the hot water.

The practice of composting has stayed with me, although I am not very good at it.

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The peelings and feijoa skins usually go out to the slightly-wonky boxes where the lawn clippings are allowed to transform into a crude sort of weed-supporting mulch.

During kitchen renovations when the children were small, the kitchen waste disposal unit seemed to come as part of the package, an assumed necessity of modern life.

Having the gurgler installed made it easier to clean up the food mess and leftovers and leave the bench and sink clean.

It broke down at one stage, and my mother, of all people, the one who raised me not to waste food scraps, insisted on having it replaced with a unit with a more powerful motor.

Now a victim of attempts to educate the Palmerston North public about wastewater management ahead of a review of what we are going to do with our treated discharge in future, the convenience is making me feel guilty.

It was a United States specialist, Charles Bott, speaking at a public wastewater seminar, who got me thinking.

He clearly does not like in-sink kitchen waste gobblers.

One of his main problems with them is not so much the greens and cereal crumbs that go down them, but the fat.

Anything greasy congeals in the sewer pipes, attaches to the wet wipes and other things we really should not flush down the toilet, to form hideous fat bergs that clog the system.

This is what happens when you send bodily waste and food scraps through the same pipes.

When you think about it, that is a rather gross and not particularly civilised thing to do.

And of course we flush lots of clean, treated drinking water away as well, turning it into grey water that has to be cleaned up again.

Occasionally things that are not supposed to go down the gurgler do go down, like teaspoons and other kitchen oddments, that can also be a problem in the pipes and at the treatment plant.

Bott reckons the better options for disposing of food waste should be composting where it is feasible, sending it to the landfill as a last resort, or his preference – kerbside collection. "The best place is on a truck going directly to the digester."

The digesters in Palmerston North have capacity for it.

At the moment, all the solids extracted from the early screening of wastewater are fed into the digesters and the gas released is used to help power an engine that in turn generates electricity to power the plant. And there is potential to feed in more solids.

The idea of food waste collections has been floated in Palmerston North before, but there has not been much appetite for it, the purists preferring the idea that people should deal with it on their own property.

Former city councillor Chris Teo-Sherrell went further at one stage, suggesting insinkerators should not even be permitted in new buildings, because they achieved absolutely nothing that could not be managed through other means.

So I suppose, for now, I will just have to compromise, at least until the gurgler dies again.

End Notes

"Rates to rise by 4 per cent".

"Resolve to clean up the river questioned".

"Three moggie maximum".

That is a fairly relevant collection of headlines for current events.

Palmerston North's rates rise for 2016-17 was 3.9 per cent.

The city council is in the very early stages of figuring out the best way to deal with its wastewater in future and whether that could involve stopping its discharge to the Manawatu River some or all of the time.

And its Animals and Bees Bylaw, a modern variant of what used to be a Cat Control Bylaw, is due for review this year.

But hang on a minute.

Those headlines are all 20 years old.

We have said it before and it is still valid.

Some things change. Some stay the same.

 - Stuff

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