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Building & Neighborhood Issues

Publication Date:Winter 1998

WASTE DISPOSAL DEBATE
Since the City Council passed Local Law 74 of 1997 permitting New Yorkers to install food waste disposers, these devices have gotten a lot of press. No longer constructed with blades, these units, which attach to the bottom of a kitchen sink drain, pound household waste to a pulp through hammerlike structures and centrifugal force. The user must run tap water while the waste disposer is working. With the devices now permitted by law, cooperatives and condominiums must determine whether they will be allowed in their buildings. Installations require Buildings Department permits and should be performed by licensed plumbers and electricians.

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection conducted 21 months of testing before concluding that the City's sewage collection and upgraded treatment infrastructure could handle the additional flow of pulverized food waste. Less clear is whether all types of buildings can handle the output of disposal units, and whether permitting their installation in your building may be doing more harm than good.

Food waste disposers have long been allowed in the 30% of New York City buildings that have separate sanitary and stormwater sewer systems. In expanding authorization to allow them in all buildings, New York is one of the last cities in the country to jump on this bandwagon.

A strong argument for the use of disposers in New York City is reduction of the amount of waste that the City must collect and transport to landfills. Data supplied by the Plumbing Foundation, City of New York, shows that about 45% of U.S. households use disposers, and more than 100 cities and towns actually require their installation and use to help reduce the production of solid waste. According to the Plumbing Foundation, food waste makes up about 14% of the city's garbage output, which is about twice the national average.

For buildings, food waste disposers may be attractive because they help reduce the workload for building staff, and remove rodent-attracting food waste from the garbage mix.

But this must be weighed against the possibility that these devices could pose a threat to aging plumbing systems. According to a recent report in the New York Times, engineers are concerned that the use of disposal units could increase both water use (see many articles on water meters and conservation efforts in prior issues of this Newsletter and elsewhere) and the amount of semisolid waste. This could overwhelm old pipes, posing a particular threat during the after-dinner hour, when many residents are likely to be running their disposal units.

The Plumbing Foundation contends that food waste disposers, invented more than 50 years ago, are a "surprisingly safe appliance -- nine times safer than dishwashers." They are already in use in other older cities, such as Boston, Detroit and Philadelphia. Plumbers note that the units are safe on pipes because they liquefy food waste, which is already 70% water, and discharge only tiny particles. As for the water-use issue, the DEP study showed that in a worst-case scenario where 38% of households used these units by the year 2035, it would only increase water use by one gallon per household per day.

Given the confusion surrounding the installation of these units, cooperatives and condominiums will want to be both careful and thorough in their research and decision-making. If your building is considering allowing food waste disposers, make sure a licensed engineer inspects your plumbing system to ascertain whether it can handle the additional traffic.

Second, if your building does allow these installations, make sure shareholders and unit owners hire only licensed plumbers and licensed electricians to do the work. Failure to use licensed contractors and to obtain appropriate permits could result in fines from the City and improperly installed waste disposers can cause serious problems in the building.


CONSTRUCTION MANAGEMENT SERVICE
When repairs or improvements become necessary in a cooperative or condominium, the accepted procedure -- and one that CNYC has always advocated -- is to develop a scope of work and then request bids from several reputable contractors. But boards often experience misgivings about the trustworthiness of these bidders and their ability to do the job. Now a new service is available to help with these projects.

Knockout Handymen, Inc. was first described in the CNYC Newsletter in Autumn 1995, when it made reliable repair services available to senior citizens, property managers and building owners, including co-op boards. To meet demands for larger jobs, the company has expanded to form Knockout Renovation and Repair Services, which carefully screens contractors and stands behind their performance.

Company president Keith Steier reports that Knockout puts contractors through several layers of screening. It first reviews their qualifications and references. Those meeting Knockout's standards are then tried out on smaller jobs, where Knockout supervises them closely until it is certain of their capabilities and professionalism.

When Knockout is hired for your job, their estimators will visit the site and give you a range of how much the project should cost. Then Knockout-approved contractors will offer their bids on the project. During the job, Knockout's site inspectors visit regularly to oversee the work and collect payments. No payment is made to the contractor until your board and the Knockout inspector are satisfied with progress to that point.

Knockout Renovation and Repair Services can be reached at (718) 745-0722 or (212) 393-9163.

 
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