Below streets across the United States there is a problem that most people do not know exists; massive amounts of fat and oil are building up in the sewers rendering them inefficient, and costing local governments hundreds of billions of dollars.
The problem does not start in the sewers, but first in the homes and restaurant kitchens of Americans who pour leftover cooking oil, fats and other greasy waste down the drain. In the case of commercial kitchens, while there are large grease traps or interceptors in place to collect the used and leftover oil, the massive tubs are often not emptied on time. Overflowing grease from these tubs then ends up directly in the sewer system. Grease interceptors can hold anywhere from 25 to 1,000-gallons of oil so when the grease traps overflow a significant amount of oil is making its way into the sewers.
When the grease and fat gets into the sewers it mixes with all the wastewater, debris, and chemical and biological components already found there. The resulting congealed buildup grows until it becomes a fatberg, which can eventually result in a large scale failure of a city’s sewage system if not attended to in a timely manner.
With the average U.S. sewer pipe approximately 45 years old, most pipes are incapable of handling the added stress being placed on them by overflowing grease traps. According to a recent review of the subject, fatbergs are believed to be the cause of about 47% of the up to 36,000 sewer overflows that happen in the U.S each year. Not only is it expensive for cities when the sewers get clogged with grease, but it is also bad for the environment. The sewer lines stop functioning properly which can lead to raw sewage being pushed out into the streets and nearby bodies of water.
There are some basic preventative measures that individuals can take which go a long way in preventing the damaging greasy sewer buildup. An experienced sewer repair company based in Denver, CO advises clients to avoid pouring any grease or oil down the drain. Instead, it should be poured into a jar and tossed in the trash, or wiped with a paper towel and then tossed. Also, care should be taken not to flush or wash down the drain any known drain cloggers such as hair, dental floss, fruit rinds, baby wipes, egg shells and starchy foods.
To provide a solution to commercial kitchens dealing with huge amounts of grease on a daily basis, Luke Ismert founded a startup called Snorkel, which uses an app to plan, detail and track the collection of grease traps. Called “Uber for grease,” the app can help to ensure that traps are emptied on time, and can provide data to help the city plan sewer upgrades and repairs, avoiding costly emergencies.