Raleigh public works employees use a specially equipped truck to clean grease out of a sewer line. Crews drop video cameras down manholes to find grease clogs, then flush the sewer lines with chemicals and water.
Adam Hochberg, NPR
Starting Monday, new garbage disposals are banned in Raleigh, N.C. Officials say the appliances allow grease to accumulate in sewers, leading to sewage spills. But a lot of homeowners, and a company that makes the kitchen appliances, consider the ban invasive and misdirected.
To try to prevent environmentally damaging sewage spills, city crews use a special truck to flush away grease with water and chemicals. They do it on every sewer line in Raleigh — repeating the process about twice a year.
Mayor Charles Meeker says the annual cost runs into the millions of dollars, and he blames much of the problem on garbage disposals, which he says encourage bad kitchen habits.
"You certainly can put grease down a sink without a disposal, but when you have a disposal in a house, you're more likely to grind up things like chicken bones," Meeker says. "And the amount of grease that comes out of each house is increased by about 20 percent, which across the city is thousands and thousands of gallons."
So now, new garbage disposals are outlawed in Raleigh. While people who already have them can keep using them, no new ones can be installed. Meeker hopes residents will start composting their food scraps.
But it's clear that many aren't ready to give up their disposals. City Councilman Rodger Koopman says he has heard so much outrage about the ban that he's reconsidering his support for it.
And David MacNair, a vice president of InSinkErator, the world's largest maker of what it calls "household food waste disposers," says his company's appliances are good for the environment because they reduce the amount of waste going to landfills. He says disposals shouldn't be singled out as the only source of sewer grease.
InSinkErator and other industry groups successfully lobbied New York City to repeal a similar ban on garbage disposals 11 years ago. Now, MacNair says they'll try to do the same thing in Raleigh. On Tuesday, they'll argue before the City Council that their ubiquitous kitchen appliance has been unfairly demonized.