Fats and oils and grease, oh my!

Date: Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Met Council convenes regional task force

The Metropolitan Council has convened a regional task force to tackle the increasing problem of fats, oils, and grease in the sewer system.

Illustration of a grease interceptor in the shape of a rectangular box.It’s a knotty and expensive issue for cities because fats, oils, and grease can build up in sewer pipes and cause clogs and wastewater backups into homes and businesses. This gunk can also bind with stuff that shouldn’t be thrown down the drain or toilets — like paper towels, so-called flushable wipes, and dental floss — and damage wastewater pumps, causing them to fail.

Restaurants and large food service establishments, like educational institutions, are a common source of fats, oils, and grease, which can be easily captured with a properly sized grease trap.

Waste discharge rules prohibit excessive fats, oils, and grease

We collect and treat about 250 million gallons of wastewater in the region each day. Our waste discharge rules prohibit excessive discharge of fats, oils, and grease that do or may cause obstructions in the public sewers as well as operational problems in those sewers and at our wastewater treatment plants.

“We continue to see an increase in fats, oils, and grease in regional wastewater pipes and at sites where we receive liquid waste from haulers,” said Tina Nelson, manager of Industrial Waste and Pollution Prevention. “Our customer communities are experiencing the same thing. As with other pollutants, the most cost-effective way to deal with them is to reduce them at the source.”

Section of sewer pipe clogged with fat and grease.

Communities request help to tackle the problem

We formed the task force because an increasing number of our customer communities were requesting help to address the problem, Nelson said. While a few communities have well-resourced and successful programs to manage fats, oils, and grease in the sewers, many do not.

Representatives from eight cities, four businesses, and one industry group are serving on the task force. Cities include Chaska, Crystal, Eagan, Hastings, Minneapolis, Richfield, Saint Paul, and Savage. Businesses include Minnesota Petroleum Service, Drain King, Inc., Sanimax US LLC, and Pizza Luce, and industry group Hospitality Minnesota.

Developing best management practices, educational materials

The task force first met in April. Nelson said task force members were clear they want a toolkit, which may include best management practices for businesses, model ordinances for cities, and educational materials in multiple languages to share with businesses and the public. The task force will develop the toolkit with support from the Met Council over the next few months.

“This is a perfect role for the Met Council, given that this is a regional problem,” said Peter Lindstrom, chair of the Met Council’s Environment Committee. “Clearly there’s a lot of interest. And with communities and businesses serving on the task force, I think you’re off to a great start.”

Before the task force finishes its current work, we will gauge their interest in developing a regional strategy for recovering fats, oils, and grease and finding a beneficial use for it.

“We also intend to explore avenues for grant money to help communities develop their own control program and for businesses to offset the cost of installing a grease interceptor,” Nelson said.

The task force is expected to report back to the Met Council this summer.

What not to flush or put down the drain

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