A technology invented in Racine 81 years ago, originally for hygiene and convenience, is now a fundamental tool for businesses and homes throughout the world to function in a more environmentally sustainable manner.
InSinkErator serves as a shining example of a local organization producing an innovative and sustainable product that’s affected not only the Racine County community, but the state of environmental safety and sustainability on a global scale.
The garbage disposal was created by John Hammes in 1938. By grinding food scraps into fine particles, this material can be efficiently transported through plumbing and sewer systems to wastewater treatment plants or flow safely into septic tanks. Historically, consumers purchased garbage disposals to make kitchen clean-up quick and easy, especially for plate scrapings.
“Increasingly our customers are recognizing these appliances of convenience as important sustainability tools, a means by which they can divert organic wastes from landfills to modern wastewater treatment plants,” said Michael Keleman, manager of environmental engineering at InSinkErator.
On average, food waste comprises about 21 percent of all material placed in landfills. Food waste that ends up in a landfill eventually forms methane emissions that are primarily released into the air. The garbage disposal is designed to divert food waste from these landfills and essentially create an organic breakdown to better harness the use of the methane. This breakdown occurs at local advanced treatment plants where the methane can be used to create energy to offset costs for purchasing electricity.
“Now, more than ever, disposers are being recognized as part of an overall environmental strategy to responsibly handle food waste and divert waste from landfills,” said Joe Dillon, president of InSinkErator.
“As the market leader in disposers and as the experts on this subject matter, we are well positioned to support this strategy and help improve the environment.”
InSinkErator is a division of Emerson Electric Co.
The company is headquartered in Mount Pleasant and has manufacturing facilities in Racine and Kenosha as well as a warehouse in Sturtevant.
In addition to its line of garbage disposals, InSinkErator also manufactures and distributes hot water dispensers and food service equipment.
“InSinkErator has been a proud part of the greater Racine community for over 80 years,” said Dillon. “The future is very bright for long-term growth at InSinkErator, providing additional rewarding career opportunities for people looking to make a difference in how we impact the environment.”
Over the past decade, InSinkErator dedicated time and resources to better understand and communicate the impact of disposers on wastewater plants. In 2011 they completed a comprehensive life-cycle assessment and partnered with five local municipalities to evaluate the potential of using disposers to divert food waste from the garbage stream.
InSinkErator also turned its marketing efforts to social media, where it aims to educate younger consumers on the importance of food waste and how it’s broken down.
InSinkErator’s sustainability focus is led by Keleman and Casey Furlong. The team oversees research and communication of information on the environmental impacts of disposers. Keleman and Furlong’s previous experiences in the wastewater treatment and landfill industries complement their work and position the team as experts in the field. They regularly attend trade shows and conferences for the waste industry and often present the latest research on disposers and food waste management.
“InSinkErator frequently engages with members of the academic world and engineering consultants to determine knowledge gaps and initiate research to fill them,” said Furlong. “For several years, this helped communities look at disposers differently, with cities like Boston, Los Angeles and Racine now considering disposers as part of the solution to diverting food waste from landfills and achieving zero waste goals.”
Keleman believes the shifting marketplace demographic comes with a universal theme of protecting the environment and promoting sustainability. One of the largest hurdles remains in educating these people enough that they understand the significant impact on using disposers.
Keleman said, “When people learn that disposers not only help keep food waste out of landfills, but they also help make clean water, energy and fertilizer at the wastewater treatment plant, they are intrigued and often want to know more.”