January 19, 2010

Seattle sewers are clogged with grease: recycle and limit garbage disposals

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An eye-opening, stomach-clenching report in seattlepi.com today reveals that 544,000 gallons of grease clog Seattle drains every month, most of it from dirty dishes and food waste. That’s enough to fill seven large swimming pools, reporter Scott Gutierrez tells us, and it causes about one-third of the city’s sewer backups. A video of the interior of a fat-clogged sewage pipe looks eerily similar to what a patient headed for open-heart surgery might be viewing at the cardiologist’s office.

It’s an issue for any city or county with older sewer pipes and residents who consume animal products. Cities have taken various approaches to reducing the amount of grease discharge, either through stepped-up recycling programs or stronger regulations. Last year in Fairfax County, Va., officials sued donut giant Krispy Kreme for $20 million, alleging that years of greasy waste from a donut plant had fouled up the sewer system.

rita_hibbardwebIn Seattle, most restaurants throw used cooking grease in bins, which is collected and sent to rendering plants or converted into biodiesel. But many residents don’t thoroughly scrape the grease off their dishes, Gutierrez reports. In those cases, it rinses off into the hot water, then accumulates in the city’s pipes.

Although there are hot spots in the city’s sewer system around areas with restaurants, home garbage disposals are a real problem.

People toss their food scraps into the disposal, thinking the ground-up mess will safely drain down through the pipes. But that’s not what happens. “One thing that has been a real surprise in this industry — one thing people have learned over time is that there is much bigger residential component than people might think,” a utility official said.

Some cities, including New York and Raleigh, N.C., have tried garbage disposal bans, only to lift them in the face of public outcry.

Here’s what you can do, according to the report:

  • Never pour oil of grease down the drain. Allow cooked fats, oil, or grease to cool and pour them into a disposal container than can be tossed out with solid wastes.
  • Thoroughly scrape plates to remove leftover fat, oil, grease and food waste from pots, pans and cooking equipment prior to rinsing. Use paper towels, if needed, to wipe greasy dishes before dishwashing.
  • Use sink strainers to catch food waste during dishwashing. Avoid using garbage disposals.

Now you know. Act wisely!

— Rita Hibbard

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