Philadelphia Requires Garbage Disposals in Homes to Reduce Food Waste

A Sustainable City Network article (2016-01-12) reported that the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is now requiring all new residential construction to include in-sink food waste disposal systems (commonly known as “garbage disposals”). The new requirement was instituted to reduce the City’s food waste. The article stated the building code amendment was adopted by the City Council and signed into law by former Mayor Michael Nutter last December and took effect January 1.

“While residential recycling rates have tripled over the past eight years, reducing the amount of food waste in the city’s waste stream is critical to meeting more aggressive waste reduction goals,” said Mayor Nutter. “In-sink food waste disposers are a helpful tool as the city continues to explore opportunities to divert organic material from the waste stream.”


Philly’s GreenWorks sustainability goals include reducing waste, generating renewable energy and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, all of which are addressed by expanded use of disposers. Sponsored by outgoing City Councilmember Dennis O’Brien, the law was supported by several city agencies, as well as the Building Industry Association, representing the residential development sector.

Targeting 10 percent of its residential waste, Philly’s new requirement emerged from a demonstration project conducted in 2012-13; in-sink disposers were installed in 175 homes in two neighborhoods, with residents educated as to their use. Food waste from those homes was reduced an average of 35 percent, suggesting that citywide use could significantly reduce the city’s trash while also improving the quality of life, reducing odors and vermin.

The article noted that Philadelphia’s choice of dealing with its food waste is unique, with roughly 200 other United States cities collecting organic waste curbside and delivering it for composting. Currently, Maryland is exploring large scale collection and composting of organic waste.

Philadelphia’s path is unique: leveraging its existing water resource recovery infrastructure, based on food averaging 70 percent water. In-sink disposers convert food scraps into a slurry that passes easily through wastewater pipes and sewers, delivering it to water resource recovery facilities that process clean water, and recover organics for processing into biogas and fertilizer products. Philadelphia recently invested $50 million in its North Treatment Plant to upgrade anaerobic digesters that produce and use biogas from organic wastes; Class A fertilizer products are then produced and marketed by Synagro.

Useful Links

Philadelphia In-sink Disposal System Ordinance (Bill No. 150651)

Prior Conduit Street Coverage on Composting