A controversial Raleigh, N.C., city ordinance banning garbage disposals in both new construction and remodels was sent back to committee for further review after eliciting opposition from citizens and building industry representatives.

On March 5, the Raleigh City Council voted unanimously to prohibit the installation of new garbage disposals or food scrap grinders in residential and commercial settings. The measure, which went live on March 17 and remains, as yet, in effect, also disallows the replacement of existing disposals that are broken, although it does not require building supply retailers to remove disposals from their shelves. 

Intended to "further prevent and minimize sewer overflows," the moratorium on disposals was a singular idea resurrected from a broader wastewater management plan originally presented to the Council in 1999. According to city estimates, Raleigh averages 48 to 50 sewer overflows annually, about 40 percent of which are attributable to food and grease poured down kitchen drains. The ban applies to residents of Raleigh, as well as those of neighboring towns that are connected to the city's sewage system. Mayors of several surrounding municipalities are reportedly among the opposition.

An initial announcement on the city's Web site indicated that violators could be issued a "civil penalty assessment of up to $25,000 per day, and possibly incur a temporary or permanent interruption of water and sewer services," although Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker subsequently downplayed the penalty, indicating that fines were unlikely. It is unclear how the ordinance will be enforced if it remains in effect. BUILDER calls to the city's public utilities department were not returned.

Garbage disposal manufacturers have been quick to respond with efforts to educate council members on what they see as flaws in the ban's logic. "One, it's not going to solve the problem that Raleigh has, because elimination of disposals will not prevent people from pouring grease down the drain," said David MacNair, vice president of marketing for Racine, Wis.-based InSinkErator, a leading maker of food waste disposers.

"Two, the ordinance is going to create new problems for the city that could be avoided," he says, arguing that the move could exacerbate unsanitary conditions stemming from a recent reduction of municipal trash collection from twice to once per week, and that additional organic material sent to landfills will cause an increase in methane gas. 

Cities in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York have passed measures in recent years designed to minimize the amount of food waste sent to landfills. A decades-old New York City ban on garbage disposals was lifted in the 1980s after an impact study indicated no clear relationship between the use of disposals and sewer clogging.

Although the Raleigh ban directly affects builders, members of the local Home Builders Association (HBA) thus far have declined to mobilize, preferring instead to let angry citizens do the dirty work. "We did not take a front position on this, given the silliness of it," says Suzanne Harris, vice president of government affairs for the HBA of Raleigh-Wake County. "Dissidents have shown up at city council meetings and spoken out. We'll let them fight this battle."

Said one local builder, "Well, for now, that just saved me 150 bucks."