Fighting FOG through behavioural changes in the kitchens

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Evidence proves that areas with lots of restaurants, cafes and hotels are at greater risk of sewer blockages caused by fat, oil, and grease (FOG) than quieter spots – and the number of establishments opening continues to grow, putting more and more pressure on the wastewater networks.

How should this problem be tackled? The complex subject of behavioural change in kitchens was discussed at our 2019 European FOG Summit, held in Amsterdam, where experts shared their experiences.

Tom Curran, director of the MSc Environmental Technology at University College Dublin, has carried out in-depth research on FOG. He said clear and accessible communication is needed for all: “There is a very high turnover of staff generally and they speak many different languages – it’s an international business. You could be working in a restaurant with maybe ten different languages, so making graphics and posters to explain to staff very quickly what they need to do is very important.”

Taco van der Meer, owner of The Albus Hotel in Amsterdam, the very first hotel in Europe that doesn’t produce co2, said that when it comes to keeping FOG out of the sewers, it’s down to the owner “to take action and do the right thing” – particularly when training new starters. He explained what he does to prevent sewer pollution: “The first thing our staff does is clean the plates to get all the rubbish into the bins. And then they put it in the dishwasher. That’s how we do it. Sustainability is very important to us.”

For Jeroen de Boer, who is responsible for the wastewater and sewer network at Waternet, Amsterdam’s water utility, Taco’s attitude is an exception that should become the norm. “How many establishments clean their dishes before they put them in the dishwasher? That’s the right way to do it. We need to educate people and explain. This environmental issue is getting more attention, so maybe it’s the right time to jump on the boat,” he said. “In areas where there are a lot of hotels, restaurants, and cafes, we do a lot of maintenance. We are there about five times a year – in the normal areas we are there only once in five years. It costs us a lot of money.”

The need for better regulations

Pieter de Graaff, the owner of Holland-based grease trap supplier, believes regulations around grease interceptors should be explained to establishment owners in the early stages when they first get their permit. “[In Holland,] every permit for a restaurant says it needs an interceptor to comply with the regulations. But this should be explained. The person who builds the restaurant doesn’t know.”

Nienke de Wilde is head of inspection & enforcement at The DCMR Environmental Protection Agency and works with about 2,200 restaurants, hotels, and bars in the Rijnmond area in Rotterdam. She agreed there could be more effective training around FOG, particularly during mandatory food handling training or even upfront, when establishments’ permits are issued. “We would like to do that. For issues about noise or smells, when a restaurant or bar owner gets a permit, we check if the building is suitable. But for fat, we don’t do that yet.” Ultimately, she said the responsibility lies with the owners: “It’s something the owner has to figure out. Taco is being very responsible by saying you have to clean then put this in the dishwater. That is good behaviour.”

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