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City takes aim at reducing fats, oils and grease clogging sewers

SF Public Press
 — Feb 4 2011 - 1:58pm

San Franciscans know the chilly fog that blankets the city almost every day, but they might not know another fog is lurking in the city's sewer system: fats, oils and grease (F.O.G).

The city spends about $3.5 million annually to unclog sewers filled with fats, oils and grease from food service establishments, according to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

This week the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in favor of an ordinance by Supervisor Eric Mar  that requires all restaurants that handle fats, oils and grease to install devices to capture the discarded waste and for the devices to be properly maintained and cleaned. 

“Currently San Francisco law prohibits dumping of fats, oils and grease in drains leading to our sewer system, but the current law has not been successful preventing F.O.G entering the sewers. It's estimated that over 40 percent of the sewer system service work orders are F.O.G related,” said Mar.

Karen Hurst, project manager for the utilities commission, said inspectors have been working for a number of years with restaurants in educating them on best management practices, including how to discard fats, oils and waste.

“The one thing we found out is that we weren't focused on the grease traps themselves. No one really looks at them after they are put in. There might be restaurants who haven't cleaned it in the past five years and it just becomes a hard and crusty,” said Hurst.

Hurst also said finance help would be made available for restaurants that need to install a grease capturing equipment, including reducing sewer service charges by 14.2 percent, which would pay for the equipment within one to three years.

Kevin Westlye, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, which has over 900 restaurants as members, said he supports the legislation because it will weed out the restaurants that are not obeying the city code.

“This really addresses the worst violators who create a lot of grease and who have no system in place right now,” said Westlye.

The ordinance takes effect on April 1. 


The issue of maintenance and disposal of grease in residential or commercial kitchens down to the drains and sewer can be a very stressful problem. Irresponsible waste cooking oil can be a bad habit to break but with the combined effort of concerned agencies, prevention of the problem can be achieved. Indeed, grease shouldn't be poured into drains that will eventually reach sewers. Home owners and even restaurant owners should store used cooking oil in plastic containers with lids and allow grease collection companies to collect them. In Texas, such practice is being followed by a growing number of people. Their waste oil is collected then transported to a recycling plant that processes the grease into useful products.

Conventional Grease Traps have been a problem for many years.
They do not do the job. They are "Out of sight, Out of Mind".

The passive grease trap technology is over 100 years old.
There is 21st Century technology that is a solution, not just a band-aid.

The Grease Recovery Device (GRD) outperforms all conventional grease traps.
GRDs can trap upwards of 99% of the grease from restaurant waste water.
A passive or conventional grease trap, at best will only stop 85% of the grease waste when emptied, serviced, and maintained.

The benefits of a good GRD are that they are made of stainless steel (dont rust) .They have a built-in food solids strainer.

GRDs never need to be pumped out as the grease is emptied daily from the units. Most GRDs recovered grease is visible and easily emptied.
Rancid odors do not exist with a GRD.

The yellow grease recovered from a GRD can be recycled for biofuel.
The brown grease from a standard grease trap goes to landfill.

Never use grease trap enzymes, bacterias, or chemicals.
These additives just push the grease from the grease trap into the sanitary sewer causing future grease blockages. This results isn sanitary sewer overflows.. Grease trap additives are typically banned in every jurisdiction. They have never been proven to work satisfactorily.

Half the battle is proper equipment, maintenance, and restaurant education.
See for Best Kitchen Practices for responsible grease management as well as the Environental Impact from restaurant grease.

A grease trap ordinance is only practical if the ordinace is enforced.