In the same way, greasy food can cause a wicked case of indigestion, so too does it cause problems with the pipes in your home and at the wastewater treatment plants we depend on to take care of No. 1 and No. 2.
Things that go down the kitchen sink or things that are flushed in a toilet all seem to disappear down the drain. But that’s just the start of its journey.
From your home’s pipes, that waste and water flow into the sewers, where an underground infrastructure diverts it to wastewater treatment plants. When it works as intended, water infrastructure is one of many public health achievements that is invisible in our day-to-day lives. Because it’s out-of-sight, out-of-mind, it’s easy for people to take these complex systems for granted.
Maintaining a healthy water infrastructure isn’t just the responsibility of local governments or public works employees; we all play a part in keeping things flowing.
While it may seem convenient to dump leftover grease down your sink once you’ve finished cooking, doing so is hazardous. Grease and cooking oil can cause extensive damage to your home’s drainage system and your city’s sewer system by contributing to blockages.
Fats, oils and grease (FOG) can come from meats, butter, lard, food scraps, mayonnaise, sour cream, sauces, salad dressings, dairy products, and cooking oil, among other items. The improper disposal of FOG can cause plumbing clogs and dangerous buildup as they thicken and combine with other oil particles in the pipes.
How does grease clog drains?
Grease solidifies as it cools and can become lodged in pipes and block drains. Even if the grease makes it past your home’s plumbing system, it continues to wreak havoc in the municipal sewer system.
Some cities spend millions of dollars a year addressing damaged sewer systems and clearing out masses of solid waste—obstacles the industry calls “fatbergs,” which are named for the cooking oil and grease that hold the obstructions together.
Any hardened grease that makes it out of the pipes under your home mixes with everyone else’s, forming an ever-growing, solid mass of fat. The flushing of nonbiological items — Q-tips, floss and even “flushable” wipes — clogs the sewers with materials that can’t be broken down. These catch on the globs of fat and combine to create fatbergs that can weigh several tons.
What else shouldn’t go down the drain?
In addition to never pouring cooking oils or grease from cooked meat down the drain, you should also avoid dumping these, too:
- Salad dressing
- Coconut oil
- Peanut butter
- Cosmetic oils
- Petroleum jelly
How should we dispose of cooking grease?
- Let the grease dry: The first step is to let the grease sit for at least an hour. Once it cools, you can move on to the next step.
- Scrape the grease into a separate container: Find an empty container you can use to throw away the grease. Some good options are glass jars or old cardboard milk cartons. Anything with a tight seal or wax lining works. Pour or scrape the cooled grease into the container and seal it.
- Throw it away in the garbage: Once the grease is in the container, you can throw it away in the garbage. To avoid any spilling, you can put the container in a plastic bag before putting it in the trash.
- Use paper towels to wipe the rest of the oil or grease: Finally, use some paper towels to sop up any remaining oil or grease from your pots and pans before washing them.
While we live in an out-of-sight, out-of-mind culture, some gross things are forming in the pipes when we think our small amount of grease won’t matter. Just because something might not clog your home’s drain, it doesn’t mean it won’t clog your community’s sewer system.
By only pouring liquids you can drink down your kitchen sink, you can help prevent clogs and other plumbing problems further down the line.