Do you think putting food scraps into the garburator in your kitchen sink is at least somewhat environmental? Think again. District of Squamish engineer David Roulston explains what is wrong with using the household garburator.
Q: Many of us have assumed while composting our food scraps is best, using the garburator is a close second. What is wrong with using them?
A: They take energy to operate and they require water to actually get the food into the sewer system, so you are basically using up resources to get the food into the system. It creates maintenance issues when the food does get into the sewer system, both in the collection and in our treatment, and it takes energy to get the food back out.
And then at the end of it, there’s really no beneficial use for it. We end up trucking it away to Whistler to be composted.
Q: What are the maintenance issues?
A: One is that because we are using water, or putting more into our sewer system, it uses up capacity. There’s also grease in a lot of the food that causes clogging and backing up in our sewer system so we have to maintain the sewers more often so it doesn’t cause backups. There’s also a lot of grit that gets into our pumping stations and our treatment facilities, and that leads to wear and tear on our pumps and on the treatment plant.
Q: Is there anything else you would like people to know about the impact of the garburator?
A: There was one other thing I wanted to touch on in terms of the actual chemistry and biology of the wastewater. By putting food waste into the sewer system, it adds nitrogen, and that has a negative impact on the receiving environment, which in our case is the Squamish River.
And it also increases what is called biological oxygen demand, so that means it basically eats up the oxygen in the water, which can be bad for aquatic life such as fish. Less use of garburators would result in improved water quality in the Squamish River.
Q: Even new developments around Squamish, such as the new townhouses downtown, have garburators. If they are so bad, why are they still being installed?
A: Squamish hasn’t done anything to ban them as of yet, so it is fully within the bylaws, and I think a lot of people don’t necessarily think about the downsides of them.
It is an awareness issue, and I think we are going to be doing more to let people know about that. Now we do have the curbside food scrap and organic collection and in that case, we are taking that and composting it, and we are actually able to create a beneficial product out of it – soil – that can be used for organic farming and gardening.
Q: Mayor Patricia Heintzman mentioned at a recent budget workshop that she would like to see garburators banned. Has that been done in other jurisdictions?
A: Yes, it definitely has been. Toronto has done it, and I know Metro Vancouver is considering it. There definitely have been quite a few places that have taken the step to ban them. We won’t be the first.
Q: So where is the district at in the process of creating a ban?
A: We can expect to see the bylaw passed this year, and the sooner the better. It is up to me to basically amend the bylaw and bring it before council, so it is just a matter of how quickly I am able to do that.
Q: So you have already said that people should be using their organic food scrap tote, what else should people be doing? Taking out their garburators altogether?
A: Yeah, that would be a great step. You know, though, if someone already has a garburator installed, we are not going to say they have to remove them. It is going to be a ban for new construction and then, going forward, no new garburators.
Q: Could the district have stores in town banned from selling them?
A: I don’t think we can necessarily restrict stores, because they could be selling them to a different market. I think there’s going to be an education piece with local retailers to make sure they are aware they will be against the Squamish bylaws and that their market will be other municipalities.