Solutions to the complex issue of fat, oil, and grease (FOG) can vary depending on whereabouts you are in the world. But experts agree that three things are crucial – communication, education and collaboration – and these underpin many FOG projects which are seeing encouraging results.
At our 2019 European FOG Summit, held in Amsterdam in March, we heard some inspiring success stories from around the globe.
Barry Orr, sewer outreach and control inspector, City of London, Canada, has run a high-profile outreach programme since 2008 and has become an international voice on FOG. The programme included the launch of a labeled cup educating people on the importance of properly disposing of FOG. Residents were asked to collect FOG in the cup and either throw it away or drop it off at an environmental depot. Since the campaign began, Barry has become an international voice on FOG, regularly invited to events or speak to the media worldwide.
His proactive approach to community engagement has had fantastic results.
Barry told the audience: “We used to have about 40% of our blockages related to fats, oils, and grease and we had a list of about 101 sites that we had to visit more frequently. Today we’ve dropped that list down to 26 sites and we have not had a blockage in four years related to fats, oils, and grease.
“I am passionate about protecting my community and my community is not only in London, or Canada, it is the world. Not only are we protecting the environment we are also saving money, taxpayer money.”
Stephen Edwards is a network protection and enforcement officer at Southern Water, UK, which has a similar customer engagement programme. Steve’s team was established in 2015 to engage with domestic customers and food establishments, proactively and reactively.
He said: “We began going to hotspot areas, educating customers, delivering the message door-to-door and through presentations. It’s also our job to go and educate the 27,000 food establishments in our area. Education is key. Our work has been attributed to saving our company £11.2 million. So, so far so good – and a lot more work to do.”
Collaboration is key to Cassandra Mac’s work at the Tempe Grease Cooperative, a unique and innovative partnership between the City of Tempe, US, and its foodservice establishments to manage grease interceptors and fog.
Grease-producing businesses who voluntarily join the cooperative make a commitment to care and pay for maintenance on their interceptors. In return, they receive low-cost services and high-quality work, because the city brokers agree on prices on their behalf.
Cassandra said: “It’s all about partnerships. Working together with haulers, with restaurants and the utilities – all working for the same cause. Perfect communication can’t happen but I think starting all on the same page would help and change from enforcement to partnership, education, and collaboration.”
About 20% of restaurants in the region have signed up – but Cassandra hopes more will soon follow. Outreach and education are extremely important – we actually have this really great educational opportunity.
Other guests at the FOG summit shared their thoughts on the importance of communication, education, and collaboration.
FOG is very much a niche topic and only comes to the news if something really bad has happened, like a huge fatberg. We need to raise awareness and tell people this is a problem not just in one country but around the world.
Oliver Loebel, Secretary-General, EurEau, the European federation of national water services
We need to train the staff in the water utilities and we need to educate the people on the street. Citizens have to know what they can put in the toilet and what they should put in the bin.
Rudiger Heidebrecht, from the German Association for Water, Wastewater and Waste
Sewer management companies really have to collaborate with municipalities to tackle to fog problem. Collaboration is really necessary.
Simon Stevens, Manager, Riopact
We have to communicate with each other and also with our customers and we have to educate them and tell them we have a problem. They think we don’t have a problem but we do – we have a big problem.
Jeroen de Boer, Team Leader, Waternet
Communication means you want to change behaviour. So make it easy for people to change their behaviour. The topic has to become more visible along the whole chain.
Barbara Anton, Coordinator, Urban Water Management, ICLEI European Secretariat, Germany
We can start at a young age and embed programmes within schools to show how big the FOG problem is and what you need to do at home. Education is very important. Not just to the public, but also for food service establishments. There is a very high turnover of staff generally in food service establishments, 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.
Tom Curran, Director of the MSc Environmental Technology University College Dublin
I think it’s important to not only focus on the regulation, but it’s also important to focus on education – tell people why it’s important.
Nienke de Wilde, Head of Inspection & Enforcement, The DCMR Environmental Protection Agency, the Netherlands (NW).