Remember when your mother or grandmother saved used bacon grease in a coffee can and stored it in the fridge and for future frying needs? They were recycling without calling it so.
Today, people who cook with animal fats, oils or grease typically discard them after use, either by allowing them to cool and tossing them in the trash or by washing them down the drain with a little hot water. What they may not know is that these substances cause problems both for their plumbing and for area water departments.
“When we use cooking oils in our kitchens, most of us probably don’t think twice about dumping that small amount of fats and oils down the drain,” said Lynne Hart, executive coordinator of Keep Athens-Limestone Beautiful. “A little hot water will keep it from solidifying in our pipes, right? Maybe for a minute, but it will eventually cool and when it does, it will collect more fats, oils and grease as well as anything else that goes down the drain.”
Athens Water Department spends tens of thousands of dollars a year cleaning out grease traps and large grease clogs, affectionately dubbed “grease gators,” from sewer pipes, said John Stockton, director of Athens Water Services.
KALB and Athens Water Services recently teamed up to offer residents a better way to cast off their fats, oils and greases. This change will help spare the local wastewater system and help a local farmer turn fats, oils and grease into biodiesel fuel for his farm equipment.
“Our recycling center has been accepting cooking oils for recycling for quite some time,” Hart said. “This new program will benefit everyone that pays a water bill here as well as our environment.”
Hart and Stockton plan to kick off the FOG Collection Program at the Sept. 29 grease festival.
Free grease jugs
KALB will soon make free, wide-mouth, rectangular, collection jugs available to Athens and Limestone County residents. Metal cages will be placed in various locations where residents can pick up an empty jug. Once residents fill their jug with FOG, they return it to one of the cages and pick up an empty. The jugs are also recyclable.
Hart said she also hopes to have the collection cages placed at grocery stores and other convenient places.
“It would be nice to have the collection cages at the stores where we buy our cooking oils and meats,” Hart said.
Stockton hopes residents will take part in the program in order to lower treatment costs and preserve the environment.
“These costs are reflected in sewer bills that we all pay,” Stockton said. “Ninety to 95 percent of clogs in household or public sewers start with oils and grease because that’s what gives you something sticky to form a clog. We get so much cooking oil, and they discharge it down sink. They put it in and flush it down with warm water and it gets into the public sewer line. It all begins to conglomerate and then floats to the top half of the sewer.”
In the process, the sometimes 2 and 3-foot grease blobs become black on top and white or grey on the bottom, like an alligator, Stockton said.
“It is excruciatingly unpleasant to retrieve this stuff, but we have sewer workers who do it all the time,” he said. “We also use high-pressure jet hoses to break it up. But all we do is flush it down the line and then we have to go back in and flush it further down the line until it gets to the treatment plant, where it becomes the hardest thing in the world to treat. It just keeps gumming up the works.”
Keeping fats, oils and greases out of the sewer is not only cheaper it is ecological.
“Keeping these oils out of the drains and recycling it into a useful product is just the right thing to do, and sometimes we just don’t need any other reason,” Stockton said.
For more information on the FOG Collection Program, call KALB at 256-233-8728 or send email to KeepALBeautiful@att.net.