Whether you need to toss unidentifiable leftovers lurking in the back of the fridge or just a few scraps from tonight’s dinner, the option you choose depends on the type of food and your local garbage options. The trash can is an easy choice, but it’s not always the safest or most environmentally friendly option.
Down the Drain
Disposing of food in the garbage disposal has less environmental impact in areas with plenty of water and good sewage treatment, but it’s not meant for all waste. Grease, oil and fat can clog a sink drain, while fibrous materials like artichoke scraps, corn husks or bones can bind up disposal blades. Foods that turn into a paste or swell in water, like potatoes and pasta, can also clog your disposal. When using the garbage disposal, run cold water down the drain the entire time until you turn it off.
You can throw any type of food waste in the garbage can, but first tie it up in a plastic bag or garbage bag to help keep the odors from escaping. Place cooking oil, grease and fat in a closed container, such as a plastic or waxed paper milk jug or coffee can, so it doesn’t leak and cause a mess — or worse, attract bugs and animal pests. Use a trash can with a tight-fitting lid to further help keep odors contained and pests out.
Spoiled food can pose an illness hazard in the garbage, especially if animals find it. Meats, some dairy products and canned goods can harbor illness-causing pathogens. Meats and dairy spoil if they are exposed to temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours. Bulging or leaking canned foods, or foods with visible mold or an off-odor, are also spoiled. Place spoiled foods in a sealed plastic bag so the odors don’t attract animals or pests. You can bury spoiled food 4 feet deep, away from water sources, if tossing it in the trash isn’t an option.
The Compost Option
Most food waste is compostable, whether in your own backyard compost bin or through a city program. City programs, where available, usually provide dedicated trash bins for food and compostable items. If you have your own compost bin, remember that not all food is suitable for this method of disposal. Meat, dairy, fats and oils aren’t suited for a home composter, although some city programs may take these items. If you dispose of food through home composting, breads and grains, vegetables, fruits, egg shells and coffee grounds are suitable for your pile. Everything else must go in the garbage can or down the disposal.
References and ResourcesTexas A&M Agrilife Extension: Identifying and Handling Spoiled/Unsafe Food and Drinks after a Disaster
Stanford Magazine: Leftovers -- Into the Trash or Kitchen Disposal? Essential Answer
Horizon Services: Garbage Disposal Dos and Don'ts
Real Simple: How Do I Dispose of Used Cooking Oil?