Water utilities face significant challenges in working with local food businesses to prevent fats, oils, and grease entering the sewer network. Innovative utilities are taking the data-led approach to clear FOG by proactively engaging their customers in educational outreach campaigns. Combining data and more personalized marketing can ensure that customers are informed, engaged, and ready to take action when required.
Fats, oils, and grease (FOG) in the sewer network are a £90 million a year headache for water utilities in England and Wales. While giant fatbergs get all the press coverage, there are hundreds and thousands of smaller blockages that the water companies are tasked with clearing day in, day out.
Growing urban populations and denser concentrations of food outlets, along with legacy sewer networks, are all contributing to FOG build-up in the network. And while larger food production facilities have to comply with environmental trade effluent regulations, unlike in the US and Ireland, no such rules exist for the 500,000 food service establishments (FSEs) in the UK.
In an ideal world, the problem would be solved if every FSE installed a grease-trap. Correctly sized, well-maintained equipment is the first step to prevention. Capturing FOG at source and at scale would also provide the opportunity to generate significant biofuel resources, providing a stimulus to circular economy initiatives.
The SwiftComply UK team is working closely with UK utilities in combined digital and face-to-face education and engagement programs. One of our primary aims is to collate data to get a better understanding of how food businesses use sewerage networks.
We have partnered with Yorkshire Water and the City of York Council, to deliver a food service engagement pilot in the York City area to tackle an increase in issues relating to FOG and fatbergs. The SwiftComply team will engage both digitally and physically with around 1,000 food businesses to assess and improve their onsite FOG management practices.
The project campaign will involve SwiftComply establishing and publishing a website and digital media campaign to engage with food businesses. Further to this, food businesses will be provided with the opportunity to opt in to an onsite FOG Risk Audit, carried out by the SwiftComply team. Food businesses will be provided with a report detailing areas they can improve and reduce their FOG Risk, along with support to manage these changes.
Initially, above-ground data on the number of restaurants, their GPS coordinates, cuisine type, and contact details are collected using specially designed cloud-based software. This information can then be expanded by finding out more about onsite FOG management from site visits, telephone interviews, and digital questionnaires.
The questions being asked include: Is a grease-trap installed? Is it correctly sized and fit-for-purpose? How is it maintained? Where is the captured grease disposed to?
The data build up a valuable resource for the utilities to tap into, facilitating much more robust decision-making around effective FOG education programs with local business owners. The FSEs are also provided with digital and paper educational materials promoting best practice kitchen grease management.
This includes washing-up practices such as advice on the dry-wiping of greasy cookware, crockery, and equipment, along with guidance on safe storage of waste oil, with the rule of thumb being to remove as much oily waste as possible before it comes into contact with water.
As a flood risk officer, I see first-hand what problems fat, oil, and grease create on our sewer network system. We’re pleased to support this campaign with Yorkshire Water. Anything we can do to highlight the problems this causes, including fatbergs or other environmental damage, is a positive step.
Steve Wragg, flood risk manager at City of York Council
The historically light regulation of FSEs in the UK means water companies have a greater task in changing food business behavior than in parts of the world where licensing for their discharges to sewerage exists. A useful step forward would be for water utilities to agree on terms for a national standard on best practice in commercial kitchen grease management so that all businesses are working to the same code.
The regulatory drive for cost efficiency in the water industry should lead to a nationwide utility-led grease prevention initiative, which would carry greater clout than localized schemes. With or without regulatory change, combined technology and marketing approaches like the one being trialed in York are ideally suited to addressing this complex and costly challenge.