The kitchen is the heart of the home; laughter, conversation, and satisfied appetites can be inspired by the home-cooked meal. Sadly, one less appealing culprit may also find its origin in the kitchen, specifically the kitchen sink: fatbergs, giant globs of fat, grease, and oil that build up and clog pipes.
Water that goes down the kitchen drain doesn’t disappear; it travels through the sewer system to the wastewater treatment plant to be processed and cleaned and then is reused for purposes such as groundwater recharge and landscape irrigation or released back out into nature to join the water cycle once again.
Because the sewers get water from thousands of kitchens, the smallest amount of grease and oil can build up and completely clog a pipe as the fats and grease cling to the inside of drains and sewer pipes.
Clogged pipes lead to overflows, a serious mood killer at a holiday soiree. Even worse, raw sewage can back up into homes or erupt through manholes, causing damage to homes and the environment. Grease is the cause of approximately 47 percent of blocked sewage overflows in the U.S. each year (Husain, etc. 2014).
What to do? Thankfully, greasy pipes need not be a by-product of enjoying the turkey dinner. Properly dispose of fats, grease, and oil by-products from meat, cheese and other dairy products, cooking oil, butter and margarine, food scraps, baked goods, gravy, sauces, and dressing using the following methods:
- Let it solidify in a non-recyclable container at room temperature or in the fridge and then throw it away in the trash once the container is full.
- Wipe down pots, pans, utensils, and dishware with a disposable towel or napkin before washing.
- Filter and reuse large amounts of deep-frying oil.
- Refrigerate and reuse fat for sautéing, in place of lard, or for flavor.
- Carefully compost small amounts, preferably soaked in something else compostable, and only if the compost is inaccessible by animals.
- Recycle it at a grease disposal or environmental recycling site. Check with your water provider to see if they offer cooking oil recycling.
What not to do? Garbage disposals only shred solids and do not prevent grease from food from building up again. Hot water or a dishwasher might melt the grease and push it further down the drain, but it will only solidify again once it cools, causing a build-up in the main sewer system. Chemicals that claim to dissolve grease will only temporarily push the grease, affecting neighboring lines.
What about restaurants? Encourage local restaurants to keep grease management a priority. In addition to properly disposing of solids, restaurants are required to install grease traps or interceptors, but these systems only work if they are properly sized, installed, and maintained.
Bottom line: Fat, oil, and grease can be part of a healthy, water-wise lifestyle. Take a few moments after each family meal to prevent these dinner by-products from going down the drain. It’s absolutely possible to have your turkey and eat it too.
Click here for more tips about how to use water wisely in the kitchen.
Tina Sleeper is a Water Resource Specialist with the City of Phoenix Water Services Department, one of 17 Water – Use It Wisely partners to offer water saving advice and programs.