Should You Buy A Food Waste Disposal Unit? – The Pros And Cons

In the EU, 20% of all food ends up as food waste, according to Insinkerator. Most of this food ends up in your bin – but it doesn’t have to. This will be welcome news to anyone who has had to deal with a smelly bin in the heat of summer!

Instead of binning your food waste, you can use a food waste disposal unit. This appliance, installed in your sink, can be a great way to cut down on the food that goes into your rubbish.

While the demand for food waste disposal units is only starting to grow in the UK, they are commonplace in the US. Almost every house in the US will have a food waste disposal unit installed.

So what’s all the fuss about?

How Does A Food Waste Disposal Unit Work?

Food waste disposal units are fairly simple mechanisms. Although some would consider a food waste disposal unit to be similar to a paper shredder or a food processor, it’s actually a different mechanism.

Installed between the sink’s drain and its trap, this machine does not chop or shred food particles with sharp cutting blades. Instead, it uses a plate or grinder wheel in order to turn medium-sized food pieces into very small scraps.

The wheel is equipped with pointed impellers, also known as lugs. They spin rapidly to create a centrifugal force. When any biodegradable waste is fed into the unit, the wheel will grind up the food forced against a stationary grinder ring. Any remaining particles are then washed down the drain with water.

If used properly, a food waste disposal unit should not clog drain pipes and should be fairly jam-free. Like with all machines, however, food waste disposal units can have some issues.

food waste disposal unit

Firstly, any hard or fibrous food waste may cause jams at any part of the system. Celery, for instance, has long strings that can get tangled in the impellers.

Using non-food particles in the unit, such as dishware, can lead to jams. It’s also important to use cold water with adequate volumes in order to wash the food particles away from the unit. When running the unit, keeping a constant stream of water running will help to prevent this problem.

Finally, using hot or warm water when using the food waste disposal unit is a problem. This might seem counterintuitive, but cold water is best. Hot, or even warm, water can cause liquid fat or oil to pass into the drain pipes.

This can then congeal or harden inside the pipes, leading to clogs down the line. Unclogging the pipe is possible, but can be challenging, so it’s better to avoid this problem.

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Advantages of food waste disposal units

  • Reduce the volume of food waste – lower the amount of food that ends up in the trash
  • Convenient and hygienic – will reduce any rotting food particles that end up in the trash
  • Easy to install – most kitchen sinks can have this unit installed
  • Keeps food scraps from landfills – may be more environmentally friendly than traditional disposal
  • Requires minimal energy – will only be a small addition to your current energy usage

Disadvantages of food waste disposal units

  • Not as eco-friendly as composting – will reduce waste but not the best overall option
  • Loud – running the unit late or early may disturb others
  • Not every unit will fit in the cabinet – standard food waste disposal units may not fit in small or unusually shaped cabinets
  • Bad odours are possible – bacteria build-up can lead to bad odours if not cleaned well
  • Possibility of problems – all units can jam, overheat, or leak water
  • Requires water to run – may not be ideal when water usage is limited

Top Tip: To keep your food waste disposal unit smelling clean and fresh, throw some ice cubes and a few lemon or lime wedges into it. This will help to eliminate any odours and food particle build-up.

Are Waste Disposal Units Environmentally Friendly?

The question of how environmentally friendly waste disposal units are is a common one. The answer is not a simple yes or no, though.

Normally, food waste is put in the garbage. This will usually end up in a landfill.

Landfills are one of the worst options when it comes to food disposal. Trapped of oxygen, the food waste will start to release methane gas as it breaks down. Since methane gas is harmful to the environment, avoiding food waste in landfills is a good option.

Waste in landfill

The food that goes through a waste disposal unit will be flushed away and end up in a wastewater treatment plant.

These plants will capture any methane gas that is released by food waste more efficiently than a landfill and can convert it to a green energy source.

The best option for food waste is usually composting. If that option is not available, then waste disposal units are more environmentally friendly than simply putting food waste directly in the trash.

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What Can You Put In A Waste Disposal?

  • Fruits – preferably without pits or seeds
  • Vegetables – preferably cooked
  • Vegetable and fruit peelings – such as citrus rinds
  • Plain meats – with minimal fat
  • Combination foods – prepared dishes not overly high in grease or fat
  • Baked goods
  • Cereal

What Can’t You Put In A Waste Disposal Unit?

  • Grease, oil, and fat – these can congeal inside the drain pipe and clog a sewer system
  • Extremely fibrous and stringy food waste – celery and corn husks, for example, can be problematic for less powered units and may cause a jam.
  • Meat bones – most disposals will not be able to grind them properly
  • Anything that is not food waste – packaging materials, for example, will clog and jam a disposal unit
  • Expandable foods such as pasta, rice, and oatmeal – can expand in the unit and clog the pipe

Final Thoughts…

For many households, having a unit installed can be a great option. They offer a simple, effective solution to dealing with your daily food waste.

If you are considering having one installed, make sure to research quality models for the best results and keep up with the usage and maintenance directions. You’ll have an odour-free, more environmentally friendly kitchen in no time.



Michael from

Michael is a kitchen designer from the UK. He's been designing and project managing new kitchen installations for around 10 years. Before that, he was an electrician and part of a team that fitted kitchens. He created Kitchinsider in early 2019 to help give people advice when it comes to getting a new kitchen.