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Preventing Pollution Starts in Your Kitchen

Preventing Pollution Starts in Your Kitchen
  • Natalie Stone

This holiday season, we have a lot to celebrate. For many, it’s the first time in a good while that families and loved ones have the opportunity to come together in larger groups. This means that more people will be cooking and baking this year as a way to honor traditions, do something in service for others, or maybe just try out a new recipe they’ve been craving. With an increase in kitchen activity, we want to remind everyone of how we can do something for the City that we enjoy and serve: protecting San Francisco's sewer system by properly disposing of grease and oils.

It's easy to think that once you pour grease down the drain, it’s gone forever. But as SFPUC's wastewater technicians know, this is not the case. Fats, oils, and grease (FOG) stick to the sides of pipes or mix with other materials and eventually cause build-up that, over time can create blockages. This can cause sewer backups in your home. It can also harden the pipes, increasing the risk of cracks or bursts. 

“Think about all the people who are cooking in San Francisco daily," said SFPUC's Pollution Prevention Specialist, Autumn Cleave. "That’s a huge amount of cooking oil we need to prevent from entering the pipes and our combined sewer system.”

Beyond the strain FOG puts on the sewer system, it also creates a danger to the environment. The majority of San Francisco uses a combined sewer system, which carries stormwater and wastewater to SFPUC's treatment plants in the same drains. But when significant storms cause an excess of rainwater, flooding and other discharges may occur. It’s important that these pipes remain clear so the sewer system can function correctly. This means that if FOG is in the pipe, it can pose a threat to humans, animals, and the environment.

To avoid these consequences, it's essential that we all prioritize the proper disposal of FOG this holiday season.

What Can You Do?

First, it’s important to know what counts as FOG. The most common sources of FOG in the household are:

  • Some sauces, gravies, and salad dressings.
  • Some dairy products (like the liquid from melted cheese).
  • Fats, lards, cooking oil, shortening, butter, and margarine.

Once you recognize any of these products in your food preparation, the next step is to properly dispose of the waste. Here are some options to safely do so:

  • Always cool down used cooking oil in your pan or fryer before collecting.
  • For very small amounts of oil, wipe it up with a paper towel and dispose of it in the green compost bin.
  • Use it again. Cool down the used oil in your pan, strain out the food scraps for composting, and pour the oil into a clean container to use again.
  • You may be able to take it to Recology's Household Hazardous Waste Facility. Visit their website for instructions on how to ensure a successful drop-off.

This winter, as we spend quality time with others cooking or engage in the self-care of a good meal, let’s remember to take a few simple steps to protect our City and the environment. Happy Holidays!