Good equipment choices can help you trim your garbage bill.
Disposing of garbage and waste economically and in an environmentally sound way is a major challenge. Waste has become a political and community issue as well as a cost concern. Mishandled garbage that results in odors and pests can also affect your guest's experience. Proper equipment can help you manage the overall waste challenge.
Garbage grinders or waste disposers can be used in several locations: the dishwashing room, preparation sinks and pot washing areas. These devices grind food waste into small particles, then wash it in a slurry of waste and water into the sewer system. Disposers all work in essentially the same way. Food waste is shattered or broken into small particles when protruding bars attached to the rapidly revolving rotor collide with the waste. The food waste is continually shattered until it is broken down into pieces small enough to be washed away.
Most manufacturers make units that can be adapted to fit in the bottom of a sink, at the end of a dish table trough or in their own cone-shaped basin. Grinders are made in a variety of horsepower ratings; for most restaurants, a range of 1-5 HP units should be adequate — generally, 3-5 HP in the dish room, and 1-2 HP for a prep sink.
If you don't have a disposer now, check with the local plumbing department first to be sure they can be used in your area. Some cities have banned disposers or placed excessive sewer taxes on operations using them. Other communities, however, see disposers as an environmentally sound way of reducing food waste health hazards and waste going into landfills. A caution: Operations with septic systems should not use disposers.
Another option is a pulper. Pulpers are essentially disposers that, rather than dumping the waste slurry into the sewer system, operate in a self-contained environment. The waste is separated from the water with a water press, which extracts water from the waste while allowing water- soluble matter to be flushed down the drain. The result is a damp, grayish, pulverized material that can then be removed. Often it can be composted, and some vendors will pick up the “pulp,” sometimes at no cost to you.
Certain elaborate pulper systems transport the ground slurry mixture from the point of generation to a remote trash room. The water press is situated in the trash room to dump the extracted waste directly into containers that can be removed from the premises. This engineered system saves labor and can be more sanitary than typical systems. But the system must be well maintained, which is why it is sometimes recommended only for very large institutions. Another advantage to pulpers is that they typically use less water than disposers because they recirculate most of the extracted water. In a dish room, a large volume of water can flow in a dish trough to rinse dishes without dumping it all down the drain.
One of the newest options, the compostable waste decomposer, is essentially a large stainless steel box that quickly turns compostable waste into a humus-rich “soil amendment,” similar to garden products. Used with a pulper, this creates a truly green waste reduction system.
Finally, scrapping collectors are made primarily for areas prohibiting disposers. The collector is, in simple terms, a perforated pot in a sink with water recirculating through it. Some units are made to fit the end of a dish trough and others are made to use as a scrapping sink. The item will collect food waste and wash away water-soluble materials. Using a collector in dish rooms eliminates the need to scrape dishes and rinse them before washing. Collectors can be an inexpensive alternative to a pulper, although not nearly as effective in reducing waste.
Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He is also a member of Foodservice Consultants Society International. He can be reached at 301-926-8181.