How Bad Is It to Put Food Scraps Down the Toilet?

published Aug 7, 2018
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(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

Never in my adult life have I had a garbage disposal. And believe me, every time I scoop those little food bits out of the sink stopper/strainer after washing the dishes, I wish I did. Because this chore is disgusting. Of course, I know there is a better way: I have fond memories from my childhood of just rinsing my plate into the sink and grinding those scraps away.

Recently I heard someone suggest tossing food scraps into the toilet. Huh. I can see it making sense: We flush human waste out of our homes through our plumbing, so shouldn’t our toilets be able to accommodate dinner waste as well? It seemed bizarre and yet totally logical, so I called Paul Abrams, public relations director at national plumbing specialists Roto Rooter, to learn more.

Biggest takeaway: You should NOT do this.

Here’s why: “Most toilet drains are two-inch drains that feed into a four-inch sewage drain before hooking up to the sewer system,” says Abrams. “Especially with newer toilets, that use 1.6 or 1.2 gallons to flush, you don’t have enough power to move a larger object through the drain.” While the drains underneath your kitchen sink are similar-sized, a garbage disposal grinds up food into much smaller bits before sending it through. If you put something of substance into the toilet drain, like meat, it’s likely to get stuck in the toilet trapway or only get one or two feet into the branch drain before it’s stuck. And then you have a clog.

“The worst kinds of food for plumbing are starches like rice or mashed potatoes, because when the starch combines with the water it liquifies into a gooey gel that’s hard to push through,” says Abrams. Other top offenders are as follows: grease, poultry skin, and bones. Once someone at Roto Rooter found an entire Cornish game hen stuck in the toilet trap; another time someone pulled out a whole rabbit head that had been a special dish in the evening entertaining. Pretty gross.

Abrams says his team hasn’t figured out if the flushing-food-down-the-toilet trick is an old habit that dies hard (perhaps from the days of seven-gallon flushes), a misguided attempt to be eco-friendly, or the result of kids trying to offload parts of their dinner they don’t want to eat. “We’re not sure why, but we see a big uptick in food-related clogs around Thanksgiving,” says Abrams.

If you suspect a food (or any kind of) clog in your toilet, here’s what to do: Lift the lid off the toilet tank, then flush. If the water starts to rise inside the bowl, lift up the float ball to stop the water, then turn off the water at the base of the toilet. Then grab your plunger (the black deep-cup kind, not the red shallow-cup one) and start trying to push water through the pipes. If that doesn’t clear the flow, the clog could be deeper in the pipes and it’s time to call a professional plumber. They have tools like cutters and scoops that can break up and push through tough clogs.