A garbage disposal unit (also known as a waste disposal unit, garbage disposer, etc.) 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.
Garbage disposal units are used extensively in American households, but are far less common elsewhere in the world.
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, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.
The premise behind the proper use of a disposer 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.
A high-torque, insulated electric motor, usually rated at 250–750 W (1⁄3–1 hp) 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, also known as series-wound motors, rotate at higher speeds, 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.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. Sharp cutting edges 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, known as a splashguard, 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.
There are two main types of garbage disposers—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. Some covers manipulate a mechanical switch while others allow magnets in the cover to align with magnets in the unit. Small slits in the cover allow water to flow through. Batch feed models are considered 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.Especially hard objects accidentally or deliberately introduced, such as metal cutlery, can damage the waste disposal unit and become damaged themselves, although recent advances, such as swivel impellers, have been made to minimize such damage.
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 early sixties, many disposal units have utilized 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.