Should you use your garbage disposal with a septic system?

One of the common questions we receive is: Can I install a garbage disposal with a septic system? The short answer is yes, with a big “but”.

The reason we say this is because using a garbage disposal with a septic tank is not like using a garbage disposal with a regular sewage system. To prevent any “misuse”, people don’t bother to install them. Some municipalities even forbid installing garbage disposals to prevent problems.

To determine whether you should your garbage disposal with a septic system, it’s important to understand what your local authorities say, how you would use the disposal to avoid septic system problems, and how you would need to maintain the disposal and septic system.

Where are garbage disposals illegal?    

While we cannot list the regulations for every single town, city, or country on the planet, we encourage you to check your local authority’s website to see if garbage disposals are illegal to install in your home. In some places it’s simply illegal to have a garbage disposal.

Many of these websites, especially if they discourage or ban the use of garbage disposals with a septic system, will tell you clearly what’s allowed and what’s not. For example, on the Massachusetts government website, it states not to use a garbage disposal with a septic tank. But if you have one, it encourages you to severely limit its use. There are other useful tips on the website about caring for your septic system.

These government websites are full of useful information so we recommend having a look.  

How to use a garbage disposal with a septic tank

If your local authority allows using a garbage disposal with a septic tank, and you choose to install one, how can you use it properly?

First of all, inspect and pump the septic tank frequently. We recommend every 3 to 5 years. When you add food scraps to the septic tank it reduces its capacity and increases the need to be pumped more often. By being proactive in maintaining your septic system, you decrease the chance of major problems like clogged drain lines or septic backups.

Second of all, limit its use to mainly organic matter. Things that are biodegradable will take care of itself in the septic tank. Plus, human waste has plenty of enzymes that work on breaking down waste in the tank. DO NOT in any case put anything that is not biodegradable in the garbage disposal. In addition do not put the “3 dangers”: oil, fat, grease. These will clog up your system. Consider limiting the use of your garbage disposal by converting your food scraps into compost.

If you are using your garbage disposal with a lot of processed foods (not organic), we recommend getting a garbage disposal specifically for septic tanks. These disposals release enzymes that help break down waste much better and reduce the risk of septic system failure. There are also enzyme products you can buy to boost the breakdown of waste and keep your septic system healthy and problem-free. But once again, you should check with your local authorities before using enzyme products because they can tell you how to use them safely. If the foods that you put in your septic system are mainly organic, you won’t need these products. Organic matter will take care of all the decomposition for you.

A third thing you’ll want to consider in order to use the disposal with your septic tank properly is weather. If you live in an area where the winters are cold, it will be difficult for bacteria to grow and food waste to break down. So you will have to keep a closer eye on your septic tank and potentially pump it out more often. In warm environments, bacteria can grow easily and break down waste better, potentially requiring less servicing. So weather is quite important.

To conclude, you can use a garbage disposal with a septic tank but you have to be careful. Do your research or contact your local authorities before installing one. Make sure you monitor the tank frequently and be careful with what you put into the garbage disposal.

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