NYC Renovation Chronicles

The holy grail of Manhattan kitchens: Garbage disposals

By Clare Donohue  | January 28, 2010 - 8:22AM
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The Situation

You want it. You want it bad. And is it really too much to ask?

You grew up with one, back in the idyllic suburbs of your youth.

And everywhere you read about the "green" benefits of this wonderful machine that chews up kitchen waste into half its original volume, keeping it out of landfill and preventing your cat from ripping open the garbage bag and dragging your culinary remains across your kitchen floor.

In fact, garbage disposals--once banned throughout New York City--are now legal. So why don’t most older co-ops and condos allow them?

Here's the Deal

Your building's plumbing is somewhere between 35 and 120 years old.

If you were an archeologist, eager to assess the lifestyles of your predecessors,  you might cut away a section of the "stack" that runs between each floor. This is a pipe about 6-8" in diameter, and in theory, capable of carrying away any waste a family, or a building of families, might produce.

Except that . . . thousands of chicken dinners have coated this pipe with so much unidentifiable schmutz (or schmalz!) that the opening at the center measures only about half an inch, at best. It can't support the volume of solid waste a garbage disposal might create, so the last thing your super wants to do is encourage tenants to throw bones and grapefruit rinds down their drains!

Now, if your building is well-managed, hopefully, bit by bit, floor by floor, as every family renovates their kitchen, they are replacing these corroded risers with new, unsullied pipe.

But until every single waste riser in your building is new and unclogged, you can kiss your garbage disposal fantasy goodbye. Until then, keep a cat-proof lid on your garbage can, and maybe make disparaging comments about your neighbors' outdated kitchens to encourage them to renovate. . .

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