Lots of Moving Parts

The phrase “Lots of moving parts” has been my “go-to” word to describe the InSinkerator and my experience managing its installation. I don’t mean to use it lightly or to be facetious. I’ve used this particular adage because it is a very accurate and nice way of saying this project was far more complex than I could have imagined. Its complexity, on a number of occasions really frustrated me. Now, do not misunderstand me, I think the InSinkerator is the right decision for our campus; and I’ll get into why but first let me discuss how we settled on this type of option. I’ll also endeavor to explain the nature of the installation of this particular item as well.

Lots of Moving Parts 1We at Puget Sound are challenged in that actual composting take space, period end of story. The more that you’d need to compost the larger your space need becomes. The traditional way of composting, i.e. windrows pictured to the right, requires a lot of space. Unfortunately, as you can imagine, there is not a lot of space on campus to do a large industrial operation like this (let alone the smell and animals it would attract to an urban neighborhood in North Tacoma).

Thus we are left with mechanical based options; those usually range from dehydrating or liquefying apparatus to pulping options. I’ve seen a lot of critical peer research (see this informative link by LMU) that has shown that drying or liquefying machines and the techniques they employ have a huge potential health problems. Further the “products” that they create are just another form of waste that isn’t reusable in any application.

Thus we are left with pulping, which simply grinds up the material and depending upon Parts 2the model may also dehydrate (what separates it from the dehydrator above is that it doesn’t use a specialized process/bacteria/enzymes/etc. to do it). What comes out is this gross junk:

This is not fun; not fun for the people who have to grind it, not fun for people who have to sit in the dish room and deal with the smell, not fun for the people who have to haul it out of the Diner, and not fun for the Facilities Services staff who have to do the inevitable disposal of it. That said this solution is usually combined with some form of composting; whether it is on site or off. Again, since we don’t have any on campus application we’d have to contract to haul it out. The closest option is in Puyallup through the City of Tacoma’s pilot composting program. The only problem with the city’s program is that they would only pick it up once a week; the amount of volume that the Diner produces would out pace that by several times.

Thus, using the InSinkerator is a great option because it grinds it up and then flushes it down a sewer line and it gets mixed with other bio-solids and gets turned into compost via the City of Tacoma’s Tagro program. If you’d like to read more about exactly how it is digested follow this link. Thus no fuss, no smell, and no mess for Puget Sound staff to deal with.

Parts 3Getting through all of the above methods, understanding why we needed to go with something like the InSinkerator, and then getting the product has taken awhile. Some, myself included, ventured to believe that the hook-up phase would be easy and take only a week. As it turns out I was off by three weeks and a whole lot of heartache. Let me explain why:

Step one: find a waste line. The majority of the waste water lines in the diner go through a grease interceptor. What this does is separate out the grease that is sometimes present in larger kitchen operations from going down the sewer system and clogging it up. Heavier solids sink to the bottom the oil stays on top and the water flows out to the sewer system.   Since the whole idea of the InSinkerator is to send the ground up bio-solids to the waste water treatment plant, it would make sense that the city and the univerity wanted this to go directly through a sewer line. The only problem with that is trying to locate such a line. I spent an entire day crawling around mechanical spaces until I found a line that got us in approximately the right area.

Step two: bring electrical, plumbing, and water within 3 feet of the machine for hook-up. On face value a simple 3 inch pipe connection line and 120 volt 2 phase electrical connection sounds relatively easy, in reality it wasn’t. The reason for its complexity was due to the nature of the project. That is to say coordinating four different groups each with their own needs: The Facilities Services Department on plumbing and electrical work, the City of Tacoma for testing of the water qualities prior to installation, the vendor to get them to deliver the machine and fabricate a new stainless steel sink to house the unit, and finally the Dinner so that we could shut off the dish return to weld in the new sink as well as preform the other hook ups. If you can, try to imagine the number of meals that go through the dish return, now try to find a “good” day to go completely paper products only. Thus finding days to get the necessary items completed to just prep for final hook up took several weeks to coordinate.

Step three: finally hook the darn thing up. I didn’t have a big hand in this part. That said I was still on call making sure everyone had what they needed and handled any potential problems that arose. The hook up went smooth-ish sure it had its own set of unforeseen circumstance. Yet, through extra cylinoids, piping questions, changes to the stainless steel trough, and moving equipment we thought we wouldn’t have to move we got the thing connected as of Friday of break.

All and all I’m very excited. Mostly for my part to be done in the project; there was a lot to do and some days I felt like I was drawn in three different directions. From this point on the Diner, City of Tacoma and Kina Fox-Dobbs’ Envior 101 will be doing a study on the fats, oils, grease, suspended solids, oxygen present in the pulped liquid waste and the total volume divert from the landfill. I will look forward to the results and hopefully less solid waste coming out of the diner.

Travis Freidman is the University of Puget Sound’s Sustainability and Energy Manager

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