What is FOG?
FOG refers to fats, oil, and grease, which are the natural by-products of food preparation, cooking, baking, sauteeing, etc.
While they may add extra flavor to your food, if they are poured down the drain, they can leave a real mess in the sewer collection system by forming clogs and blockages that lead to overflows and backups.
What is a collection system?
The collection system is a network of pipes and pump stations that moves wastewater from homes and businesses to the City of West Palm Beach’s East Central Regional Water Reclamation Facility.
Wastewater comes from everyday activities we all do, such as washing dishes, taking a shower, running the washing machine, and of course, flushing the toilet. Anything that goes down a drain enters the collection system.
How exactly does FOG clog up a pipe?
FOG seems harmless when it is a warm liquid because it goes down the drain so easily. But once it cools off, it sticks to sewer pipes and builds up over time.
Plus whatever you put down the drain or garbage disposal, such as coffee grounds or eggshells, or toss in the toilet (besides toilet paper) – hair, dental floss, cigarette butts, candy wrappers, toys, kitty litter, ANYTHING – gets tangled up in all that FOG.
This blocks the flow of wastewater through the pipe forcing it back up the drain resulting in flooding of a home, a street, or a stream with wastewater.
Does it really make a difference if I pour just a little grease down the drain?
Yes! If every household in the City of West Palm Beach poured daily just one teaspoon of FOG down the drain, it would be the equivalent of dumping two hundred and seventy three 55-gallon drums of FOG into the sewer every year. Every little bit adds up to create big clogs that cause spills and overflows. In fact in 2007, the EPA reported that 43% of sanitary sewer overflows in the country were caused by pipe blockage.
Doesn’t using soap or the garbage disposal take care of FOG?
FOG does not mix with water, and detergents used to “wash it down the drain” typically separate from the FOG after a period of time, which means that it ends up clinging to the pipes, restricting the flow of wastewater.
The garbage disposal just chops up the bits of food you put into it, basically moving the problem downstream. The bottom line is that using soap or the disposal is not the solution to reducing FOG.
But if I don’t have an overflow, does FOG really affect me?
Yes! If you are connected to the City of West Palm Beach’s collection system, then you have a vested interest in the reliability and life span of the system and treatment plants. Even if you never experience a FOG-related overflow, the rates you pay on your monthly sewage bill fund the maintenance, repair, and replacement of the system.
Plus if there is a spill that gets into a waterway, the City could be fined and have to pay other clean up costs as well. There is also the potential for ecological damage to the City’s waterways and shores that contribute to the quality of life for all residents.
What should I do with leftover oil or grease?
You can pour used cooking oil back into its original container (or another container with a top) once it has cooled and then put it in the trash can. Pour liquid grease into a grease can or another container. Once it has cooled and solidified, you can throw the container away.
How do I know what foods are a source of FOG?
Some common culprits are food scraps, meat trimmings, poultry skin, the “skim” from soups and gravies, cooking oils, lard and shortening, salad dressings, sauces and marinades, dairy products (including ice cream),and butter and margarine.
And if you use your garbage disposal to dump coffee grounds, eggshells, or other items down the drain this will accelerate FOG related clogs since it provides extra surfaces for everything to stick to.
What if I have a sewer back up on my property? Will the City take care of it?
It depends on exactly where it is located on your property. If the backup occurs in your sewer lateral (the pipe that connects the drains from homes and businesses on private property to the collection system) then clean up and repair is your responsibility.
If it is in the main line, then it is the City’s responsibility to handle clean up and repair.
This is why it is important for property owners to maintain their sewer laterals, having them cleaned out on a regular basis to prevent FOG buildup or root intrusion.
Public Utilities Department’s field crews service City sewer lines removing FOG before if causes problems. They cover approximately 500 miles of pipeline a year, which is the equivalent of driving from West Palm Beach to Panama City, Fl.
My neighbor had a sewer back up because of tree roots. Is this a problem too?
Yes. Tree roots seek out water as they spread through the ground and can easily crack a pipe in their search, especially if it is an older clay pipe. Tree roots typically “attack” at the joints first.
The combination of tree roots and FOG can very quickly produce a clog in a sewer lateral. The best way to avoid this is to plant any trees several feet away from your sewer lateral.
You can locate the lateral by finding the clean-out pipe in your yard, usually toward the street or sidewalk.
For residents with older, established trees, it’s a good idea to perform regular maintenance on your sewer lateral so that roots don’t have a chance to take hold.
What about restaurants? They generate more grease than residents do.
It is true that restaurants and food service establishments (FSEs) typically generate more grease than residents. However, they must comply with the City’s FOG policy which lays out the steps they have to follow to keep as much FOG as possible out of the collection system.
This includes having onsite grease traps that must be cleaned and inspected on a regular basis; they are also required to keep records on hand showing their maintenance practices. The City employs two full-time inspectors who ensure that FSEs in the City are in compliance with the FOG policy.
What happens to the grease from restaurants and FSEs?
Grease haulers licensed by the state pump the grease from traps and dispose of it properly. Some types of oil and greases can be recycled and used in a variety of everyday products such as pet food, cosmetics, skin care products, soap, and more.