Evidence proves that areas with lots of restaurants, cafes and hotels are at greater risk of sewer blockages caused by fat, oil, and grease (FOG) than quieter spots – and the number of establishments opening continues to grow, putting more and more pressure on the wastewater networks.
How should this problem be tackled?
The complex subject of behavioural change in kitchens was discussed at our 2019 European FOG summit, held in Amsterdam in March. Our experts shared their experiences:
Taco van der Meer owns The Albus Hotel in Amsterdam, the very first hotel in Europe that doesn’t produce co2. When it comes to keeping FOG out the sewers, he said it’s down to the owner “to take action and do the right thing” – particularly when training new starters: “The first thing our staff does is clean the plates to get all the rubbish into the bins. And then they put it in the dishwasher. That’s how we do it. Sustainability is very important to us.”
Nienke de Wilde is head of inspection & enforcement at The DCMR Environmental Protection Agency, the Netherlands. She works with restaurants, hotels, and bars in the Rijnmond area in Rotterdam. There are about 2,200 in the district.
She said: “Regulations in our country are pretty strict but we want to make all the companies comply. We think about the reasons they don’t comply. Is it because they don’t know the regulations? Or maybe they do know but it’s too expensive for them? When we know what the reasons are, we can do different kinds of interventions.”
Nienke’s inspectors also try to engage and advise. “When an inspector is in the restaurant, he can tell them ‘you have to have a grease interceptor, this is why, this is how to do maintenance on it, and this is why it’s important’. So it’s one-on-one, and you tell the story. But it’s also a challenge for us to reach other restaurants. We try using branch organisations but not all the restaurants are members. We try to use municipalities to reach others.” She said she’d like a joint communication strategy with the city: “It’s a work in progress”.
She agreed there could be more effective training around FOG, particularly during mandatory food handling training or even upfront, when establishments’ permits are issued.
“We would like to do that. For issues about noise or smells, when a restaurant or bar owner gets a permit, we check if the building is suitable. But for fat, we don’t do that yet.”
Ultimately, she said the responsibility lies with the owners: “It’s something the owner has to figure out. Taco is being very responsible by saying you have to clean then put this in the dishwater. That is good behaviour.”
Jeroen de Boer is responsible for the wastewater and sewer network at Waternet, Amsterdam’s water utility.
He said: “In areas where there are a lot of hotels, restaurants, and cafes, we do a lot of maintenance. We are there about five times a year – in the normal areas we are there only once in five years. It costs us a lot of money.
“How many establishments clean their dishes before they put them in the dishwasher? That’s the right way to do it. We need to educate people and explain. This environmental issue is getting more attention, so maybe it’s the right time to jump on the boat.”
Pieter de Graaff is the founder and owner of Vetafscheiders.nl, which installs grease interceptors around Holland. He is also a consultant and advises on compliance. He agreed regulations around grease interceptors should be explained to establishment owners in the early stages when they first get their permit. He said: “Every permit for a restaurant says it needs an interceptor to comply with the regulations. But this should be explained. The person who builds the restaurant doesn’t know. We started this company 25 years ago, so we’ve seen it all, we think. But sometimes situations surprise me.”
Tom Curran, Director of the MSc Environmental Technology at University College Dublin, has carried out in-depth research on FOG. He says clear and accessible communication is needed for all: “There is a very high turnover of staff generally and they speak many different languages – it’s an international business. You could be working in a restaurant with maybe ten different languages, so making graphics and posters to explain to staff very quickly what they need to do is very important.”