The Calgary Journal
The Calgary Journal

Convenience comes with a price.

And in this case it’s clogged drains caused by in-sink food disposal units.

That’s what Torontonians found out when garburators were banned in 2007-2008.

The garbage disposal units, all the rage in the 1970s and ‘80s, were found to have caused too many blockages in the sewage system.

It seems Cochrane followed suit Feb. 22, 2016 after reviewing a report from a member of the Cochrane Environmental Committee.

And the always-green Vancouver is feeling the crunch. The city spends about million in the cleaning of blockages, however it seems unlikely a proposed ban will go forward in the near future.

Where does Calgary stand?

Cheryl Harmsworth, program manager of the Strategic Water Initiative for the City of Calgary, says the city “at this time is neither promoting nor banning garburators.”

However, she also says “composting is the better option for the disposing of food waste.”

But “out of sight, out of mind” seems to be the general public’s consensus when it comes to disposing of organic waste. Unfortunately, someone has to deal with it, and that falls on the shoulders of city workers.

“Anything that goes down your kitchen sink drain has to go to the wastewater treatment plant and be processed,” says Harmsworth.

BodyAerial1 copyThe green cart program, to be implemented in 2017 will collect organic household waste such as food and yard scraps, and bring it to the new composting facility at Shepard landfill. Photo courtesy The City of Calgary

There will be sludge

Currently, any solid organic waste from garburators including fats, oils and grease, is separated from water and turned into a sort of sludge. The sludge is then thickened and treated to be used by farmers as a fertilizer for crops such as canola, wheat and barley.

Ken Roskell, owner of Ye Olde Plumber Ltd. in Edmonton, says garburators are “a bad, bad thing for the plumbing lines.”

Roskell, who is also on the board of directors for the Mechanical Association of Alberta suggests that people don’t know how to use them properly.

“You need to flush a lot of water down once you’ve chewed up the food right, then you need to flush that line out really well.”

The issue also lies with what you put down your garburator as fats, oils and grease are all front-runners for backing up pipes, according to Harmsworth.

Garbage education

And though not everyone is a culprit, for many the garburator is a disposer for nearly everything related to food.

Roger Saint-Fort, an environmental chemist and associate professor of biology at Mount Royal University, says education is key.

“It’s hard to regulate those things, so there’s not much you can do. [The] best thing is education.”

The City of Calgary has three steps to keeping your drain on a fat-free diet, including scraping plates before washing them, wiping off any fats or oils on cooking equipment and disposing of leftover cooking grease correctly.

According to its website, “The best way to dispose of oils and grease is to pour the liquid in a container, such as a tin can, empty coffee can or milk carton. Place it into the trash once the container is cooled and the contents are solidified.”

This may seem like common sense to some, yet the issue remains.

“You have regulations, you educate people, but once in a while you will have a rogue person that will do something wrong,” says Saint-Fort.

Harmsworth agrees, saying, “The individual behaviour of citizens does impact the overall effectiveness of our wastewater treatment, so it’s definitely correlated.”

Map of LandfillShepard landfill, located south of 114th Street S.E., is slated for a 2017 composting facility for organic waste, including food and yard scraps. Dewatered biosolids – nutrient-rich by-products of wastewater treatment plants – will also be processed to form a fertilizer for farms, parks and gardens. Photo courtesy The City of Calgary

So what can be done?

The city is in the midst of building a composting facility at the Shepard landfill site. The $143-million facility will turn organic waste into “useful compost for farms, gardens and parks,” according to its website, and is expected to be finished by 2017.

Harmsworth says composting is the better option, not only to cut down on blockages but also because it reduces the degree to which the organic waste has to be processed.

“If you look at all of the factors, what we’re encouraging is that we use an approach that reduces the amount of processing and handling required so you can look at the option of using the new composting services when they become available compared to using a garburator. And using the composting program would be more effective,” she says.

In the meantime, you can follow Saint-Fort’s words of wisdom: “If you cannot compost it, it should not go into the garburator, period.”

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The editor responsible for this article is Trevor Solway and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.