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Eric Masanet Talks How to Treat Your Trash on WBEZ’s EcoMyths

Sustainability expert compares disposal versus trash can methods

When it comes to tossing your trash, it turns out some methods are greener than others.

Eric Masanet, associate professor of mechanical engineering and chemical and biological engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, appeared on WBEZ Worldview’s monthly EcoMyths segment to discuss whether discarding food through a garbage disposal is more environmentally friendly than throwing it in a trash can and sending it to a landfill. 

Eric MasanetAccording to Masanet, comparing the environmental impact of disposing food involves understanding each method’s ability to harvest energy from the waste.

Masanet explained that food sent down a sink disposal is transported by sewage lines to a water treatment plant. There, the waste undergoes a process called anaerobic digestion, where bacteria decompose the materials, leaving a methane by-product. The methane can then be used to power the treatment plant or provide heat for houses in the form of natural gas. He added that while some landfills are also equipped to capture methane for reuse, the process is far less efficient and comes with an increased risk of the gas releasing into the atmosphere. 

Ultimately, Masanet contends the greenest way to dispose of food is for people to reassess how they consume it.

“We think about how we get food to our plate in this country, we have to plant, harvest, transport, process, refrigerate, drive to the store — there is an enormous footprint associated with that food just getting to us. So if we can, we should try not to waste in the first place, but if we have waste, which we all do, there are options for treating it in a green way.”

Listen to Eric Masanet on WBEZ Worldview’s EcoMyths.