When garbage disposals began to appear in home kitchens in the 1970s and '80s, many people heralded them as an easy way to get rid of stinky and sticky things.
The garbage disposal was invented by architect John W. Hammes in 1927. He started his own company, InSinkErator, and the first units were made available for sale in 1938 after 11 years of development.
New York City did not allow garbage disposal until 1997 because officials didn't want the food waste to enter their sewage systems. Disposals are used less in Europe for the same reason.
However, those who like using -- or selling -- garbage disposals point out that food scraps that don't go down the drain often go to the landfill.
In the Tri-Valley, we have the best of both worlds. Green waste and scraps are picked up and delivered to the transfer station, where they are processed and turned into compost. Plus the food particles that go down the sink are separated from the water then put into a digester that produces methane, which is mixed with natural gas that fuels big engines to make electricity that powers the plant.
Waste stream water is recycled for use on golf courses and playgrounds, said Sue Stevenson of the Dublin San Ramon Services Water District, and the first time it was done DSRSD discovered that small produce labels were clogging sprinkler heads.
"You should take those off and put them in the trash," Stevenson said, adding that she can see why people would think they were paper but plastic holds up on moist fruit better.
She also cautioned folks to keep fats, oils and grease from going down the drain where they might clog up the drain or even the sewer pipes.
"People don't realize they are responsible for the part of the sewer pipe that goes from their home to the sewer main," she said. "Gargage disposals are not trash cans."
Only small amounts of table scraps should go into the disposal at a time, and some things should go into the garbage can, never into the disposal unit (see sidebar).
The greenest way to deal with food scraps, of course, is to compost them at home and nourish your plants with the nutrient-rich results, but ah, the convenience of the garbage disposal.
Do NOT put in garbage disposal
* Rice and pasta: Babies eat them just fine but garbage disposals have trouble digesting them since they swell when they come in contact with water. The small bits gather in the trap and swell until it is jammed.
* Egg shells: Who knew? They do not sharpen the blades, as we heard for years. They break into teeny pieces that may end up clogging the line.
* Any type of stringy vegetable, including onion peels, asparagus, lettuce or celery: Fibers can tangle and jam the motor and block drains.
* Fat, oil and grease: They can clog the drain and the sewer pipes.
* Large animal bones: Beef, pork, etc.
* Coffee grounds: They can accumulate in drains and pipes, causing clogs.
* Glass, plastic, metal or even paper.
* Anything combustible.
* Cigarette butts.
* Don't put too many potato peels down the garbage disposal: The starches will turn into a thick paste and may cause blades to stick.
* Harsh chemicals like bleach or drain cleaners: They can damage blades and pipes.
What to do
Feed food into the garbage disposal a little at a time with the cold water running. (Hot water can cause grease to liquefy and accumulate.)
* When grinding is complete, turn off the the garbage disposal but let the cold water run at least another 15 seconds to flush out any remaining particles.