Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Amy Sohner: Sewer system like our arteries;
neither needs to be clogged up by ugly FOG
Most everyone knows about the dangers associated with clogged arteries. Chances are most of us know someone who has had bypass surgery or a heart attack as a result.
But most of us probably never think much about clogged sewage pipes. We should. The sanitary sewer system that runs under our cities is designed much like our circulatory system and can experience similar problems without proper care.
So what clogs our pipes? Actually, they are the same thing that clogs our arteries – fats, oils and grease. Those of us who are up to our elbows in fats, oils and grease education affectionately call these three FOG and are dedicated (much more than I am dedicated to exercise) to helping people understand how to avoid putting them down the drain.
So what are they? FOG products are those usually used in cooking that harden when cooled. Common examples include bacon grease, hamburger fat and roast drippings. Other examples that may not be as obvious are salad dressing and butter. Essentially, all of the things that can clog your arteries can also clog our pipes.
But why does it matter to anyone except homeowners who may have to call in a plumber to snake their drains? It matters because much of the hardening FOG may not clog the pipes until it moves well past your house. In fact, the clogs may not even affect you directly but instead may cause the sanitary sewer to overflow somewhere else.
As with our arteries, as the flow through the pipes gets more and more constricted, the liquid needs a place to go. Underground, once the sewer water (everything going down the drain including washing machines, bathtubs and, yes, toilets) can no longer flow easily through the pipe, it finds its own way out. The path of least resistance can often be up, such as through manhole covers, or back through the a home’s drains into basements or bathtubs. As you can imagine, this can cause terrible water quality issues and extremely gross cleanup!
The best way to avoid all of this is to properly dispose of all of your fats, oils and grease at the source – the kitchen. The easiest way I have found is to save a used steel can and pour the FOG in it and then freeze it. Some people keep the can under the sink, but then you run the risk of it tipping over or being found by bugs, etc. The freezer method allows for clumsy people like me to knock it off the shelf when I am reaching for my ice cream without any negative consequences. When the can gets full, I just toss it in the trash and start a new one. Yes, this does mean that I am not recycling the steel can, but life is full of tradeoffs.
Another rule of thumb in preventing clogged pipes is to scrape all food into a trash can (or compost) instead of down your drain. This is true if you have a garbage disposal too. The dressing left over from your salad and the butter and sour cream on your baked potato can also contribute to the clogged pipe problem.
Let me say that I am not preaching healthy eating, despite the initial analogy about clogged arteries. You may have noticed that my advice about how to reduce the amount of FOG in our sanitary sewers does not include not eating it. You can do whatever you want with your body; just leave my streams sewage free.
Of course, I can say this since I am pregnant and can eat whatever I want!
Amy Sohner is executive director of Bluegrass PRIDE and a graduate of the University of Kentucky in Natural Resource Conservation and Management. Sohner has worked with PRIDE since its inception in 2002 and is a Certified Environmental Educator. She is involved with the Kentucky Environmental Literacy Alliance, the Bluegrass Rain Garden Alliance, the Licking and Kentucky River Basin Teams, and serves as vice-chair of the Keep Lexington Beautiful Commission. Sohner lives near the Kentucky River palisades with her husband, 5-year-old daughter and a multitude of pets.