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Cease the Grease

Cease the Grease A new DEP program for residential buildings.

If you’re in a fog about FOG, then read on – and save yourself some headaches down the road. FOG is the acronym used by the city’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for describing the ingredients that are part of a common problem: fats, oil, and grease. The difficulty arises when cooks deposit any (or all) of those in their kitchen drains.

With more than 22,000 food service establishments serving over eight million New Yorkers, food remnants invariably get flushed into the sewers. Both restaurants and households discharge wastewater containing fats, oil, and grease into more than 7,400 miles of New York City public sewers. FOG can build up in the sewer by adhering to its pipes, restricting the normal flow of sewage. Clogged sewers can cause sewage backups, unsanitary conditions, and flooding as well as damage to personal and public property creating a health hazard.

In 2010, the DEP launched a program to deal with this: DEP’s Grease Remediation Program within the Bureau of Wastewater Treatment. The Grease Remediation team’s primary function is to enforce the city’s sewer regulations. A section in the regulations requires certain types of businesses to install and maintain grease interceptors, devices that separate grease from wastewater before it gets into the sewer system. The regulations also specify how large the interceptors must be and their periodic maintenance. Interceptors must be cleaned so that grease buildup does not cause them to exceed their rated capacities. The team inspects about 3,000 food service establishments per year and checks their interceptors for proper sizing, installation, and maintenance.

Now it’s your turn. Last year, the DEP launched its Residential Grease Compliance Program for renters and cooperative and condominium residents. Its goal: to help prevent kitchen grease from being washed down the drain, clogging buildings’ plumbing systems, and entering the sewers. According to DEP spokeswoman Mercedes Padilla, the agency has been reaching out to large housing developments, major cooperative and condominium organizations, and councils and memberships of commercial building associations, some of whose tenants have executive dining rooms, employee kitchens, cafeterias, and restaurants that DEP routinely inspects for grease interceptor compliance.

The agency has been reaching out to organizations such as the Council of New York Cooperatives & Condominiums, and Small Property Owners of New York, Padilla says, by mailing information about the program and publishing information on how to avoid disposing of grease in the sewer system. It is also distributing flyers in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, and Russian, and publishing articles in newsletters. DEP has placed posters on building bulletin boards and has done door-to-door outreach. DEP representatives are attending annual and community meetings to inform tenants about the benefits of this program.

Here are some tips from the DEP to prevent fat, oil, and grease from going down the drain. Residents can:

• pour cooled excess fats, oils, and grease in a container with a secured lid and discard that in a trash can.

• remove oil and any small food pieces remaining on pots and pans by using a paper towel, and then placing the soiled towel with regular garbage.

• scrape any food scraps from platters and dishes into garbage or garbage bag.

• scoop out food scraps from the kitchen drain and put them in the garbage.

• avoid putting fats, oil, and grease down the garbage grinder.

Padilla says, “The agency will continue to reach out to residential buildings in New York City to keep the 7,400 miles of public sewers free of clog. Clogged sewers can cause sewage backups, unsanitary conditions, and flooding as well as damage to personal and public property creating a health hazard, unpleasant mess, and expensive cleanup costs.” Based on data from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, a national average of 40 percent of sewer backups are caused by grease clogging the sewers.

That’s a lot of grease.

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