Please, stop it. Just don’t do it.
That’s the message the Town of Jackson Public Works Department is trying to get out there when it comes to dumping grease down the sink — please, don’t do it.
The last three weeks have been rough on the town’s public works employees, as an unusually large amount of FOG has been making its way into their wastewater treatment plant. In this case, FOG is not the haze from wildfires near and far. Rather, it’s an infamous acronym for said public works employees — Fats, Oils and Grease.
“It’s a constant battle that we typically have, maintaining our lift stations and our sewer pipes,” said Assistant Public Works Director Johnny Ziem. “But what we’ve been experiencing in the last three weeks is a ton of grease getting to our wastewater treatment plant, which has been causing operational headaches with our system that we employ for filtering out — we have a machine that screens out all the garbage and bigger material out of the wastewater stream.”
Ziem said that when heavy grease [and oils and fats] get into that equipment, “it literally shuts that thing down and we have to take it apart and clean it, which is a joy of a project, as you could imagine.”
Jackson residents are responsible for the maintenance of the “sewer laterals,” or pipes that connect from their homes to the town’s sewer mains, so if people are dumping their bacon grease down the drain and clogging their own pipes, that’s their own problem to deal with. But when that grease gets into the sewer main and sometimes all the way to the wastewater treatment facility, that’s the town’s problem. And ultimately, all the taxpayers shoulder that burden, as Ziem explained that it takes about four hours for public works employees to break down, clean and reassemble the equipment.
Bacon grease isn’t the sole culprit, either. In fact, Ziem said, there are a lot of things people pour down their drains or run through their garbage disposals that would surprise them about the amount of FOG they contain. Coffee grounds, dairy products, salad dressings, shortening, etc., all have pipe-clogging fats, oils and greases.
“Really, most of the things we eat or cook have some sort of fat in it,” Ziem said.
In fact, coffee grounds are the primary culprit for clogged pipes in people’s homes, according to plumber David LeRoy. But even such things as “flushable” kitty litter, egg shells and medications are on the list of things not to pour into your sinks or flush down your toilets, LeRoy says on his website.
And don’t fool yourself into thinking that flushing things down the toilet is a better option, as Ziem notes that all wastewater — whether flushed down the toilet or poured into a sink drain — ends up running through the same pipes and going to the same place.
Rather, Ziem said, it’s best to pour greases, fats and oils — and coffee grounds — into a container and dispose of them in the trash.
Though Ziem isn’t sure why the last three-plus weeks have been such a problem when it comes to FOG clogging the town’s wastewater equipment, he did say that holidays and summertime, when large volumes of tourists are dining in Jackson’s restaurants, are notoriously difficult for his department. He is asking Jackson residents to be mindful of what they put down the drain.
His public works employees have plenty of things to do, other than breaking down and cleaning FOG from their equipment to keep the wastewater treatment system running smoothly.
“The amount of time it takes is pretty considerable,” Ziem said. “Especially when you have all these other things that are core responsibilities at the treatment plant. We do lab testing, we do maintenance, we test water; we do a lot of things, and when this happens, it definitely takes away from all the other things you’re trying to get done, as well.”