by Charlotte J. Nash
Pouring a little bacon grease down the drain may not seem like a big problem, but every little bit adds up and can create major blockages in sewer lines. Fats, oils and grease, known as FOG, cause hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to residential property in Gwinnett every year. Property owners are responsible for cleaning up sewage overflows on their property.
About 10 percent of FOG-related overflows happen in County sewer lines where an overflow can pollute nearby streams or lakes, and more than half of all spills are FOG-related. Our Department of Water Resources staff is working to reduce the costs of pipe repairs and cleanups, which can include paying fines for environmental pollution.
The good news is that we can all help reduce FOG in pipes by simply changing how we prepare our food and clean our kitchens.
Fats come from meat and dairy sources including meat trimmings, poultry skins, butter, ice cream, or cheese. Most are solid at room temperature, so it is best to put them in the trash instead of the garbage disposer, which grinds things up but doesn’t really dispose of anything.
Oil from cooking oils and salad dressings is liquid at room temperature and coats the surface of pipes, making it easier for fats and grease to stick. Pour it in a container, put the lid on, and throw it in the trash.
Grease is cooked fat that melts from foods like meat, bacon, or sausage. It’s liquid when hot so it’s tempting to pour it down the drain. But it cools and turns solid in pipes, where it gradually reduces flow and eventually causes clogs and backups. Drain cleaners may work to clear solidified grease from your pipes, but they only move the problem further down the line.
Your kids may know more about this than you do. Water Resources offers award-winning educational materials to schools that use cartoon characters – the Fat Fiend, Oil Offender, and Grease Goblin – to teach about pollution and the environment. Secret Agent H2O also visits classrooms and summer camps to get kids to help fight clogs. You can learn more about him in this issue of Gwinnett Magazine.
The Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center teaches the importance of protecting our waterways. Other County agencies and community partners working on the problem include Stormwater Management, Planning and Development, the Extension Service, Parks and Recreation, Environmental Health, and Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful.
As we get older, we begin to wonder if cholesterol buildup is clogging our arteries. At the County, we know the same thing is happening in wastewater pipes. Tiny video cameras help us see inside those pipes to plan proper maintenance before they clog up completely.
Gwinnett County is upgrading our wastewater treatment plants to use the newest technologies for removing FOG and other contaminants. We’re even using FOG collected from restaurants to produce some of the energy it takes to run our state-of-the-art F. Wayne Hill Water Reclamation Facility near Lake Lanier.
So while we’re working to clear up the FOG, we request everyone’s help to keep it out of our sewage systems in the first place. It would cost everyone a lot less in the long run.
For more, check out www.unclogthefog.com.