A united front: turning FSEs into allies can keep our communities fatberg free

Tackling pollution caused by fats, oils and grease (FOG) requires fine collaborative work between water companies and food service establishments (FSEs).
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Tackling pollution caused by fats, oils and grease (FOG) requires fine collaborative work between water companies and food service establishments (FSEs). Although water utilities are the ones managing FOG programmes, a crucial stage of these initiatives happens inside of the kitchens — busy, sometimes chaotic places, where any task not involving food preparation runs the risk of becoming secondary.

Understanding this dynamic is especially important in countries with reactive regulations in place. In the United Kingdom, for example, the current legal framework for dealing with sewer misuse looks at the aftermath and not at prevention, which hinders the adoption of more enforcement-focused approaches.

Left with few options, British utilities end up having to invest a considerable portion of the preventive work into convincing their customers in the food business about the importance of keeping FOG away from the sewers.

Despite its limitations, however, this scenario allows FOG managers to develop closer partnerships with the FSEs. By adopting strategies involving continued engagement, education and support, water companies are able to reach high compliance levels that are based on knowledge and understanding rather than the fear of punishment.

Amsterdam is an example of a city reaping the benefits of a system that welcomed food service establishments to the process and turned them into informed stakeholders. The project, a partnership between Waternet and SwiftComply, had food businesses engaged and properly educated in FOG management, which ultimately prevented almost 1.2 million litres of FOG from being dumped into the city’s sewers within about two years.

A similar scenario can be observed in York where, on behalf of Yorkshire Water, SwiftComply representatives have visited hundreds of establishments to talk about the important role they play in the fight against the fatbergs. The work has resulted in improved levels of compliance, meaning less FOG pollution and fewer sewer blockages.

When an FSE takes the lead

Well-informed food service establishments are an ideal asset for the communities in which they’re inserted. Take McDonald’s, for instance. In 2015, the company realised it had a FOG problem in the UK so they took the proactive route and went after the utilities themselves for help.

The restaurant chain started testing options to solve the situation: for 18 months, six branches adopted either grease control devices, biological dosing, or annual tertiary treatment. At the end of this period, 16 tonnes of FOG had been retrieved from those six restaurants alone.

After the tests, McDonald’s went to franchisees to tell them something should be done, and even though they weren’t obliged by law to have grease control devices in place, the company was able to persuade its partners into adopting a FOG control programme, changing their cost expenditure from reactive to proactive.

Cases like these prove that the path to a world free from fats, oils and grease pollution requires bridging the gap between water companies and their customers in the food sector. FSEs can often be seen as stubborn, but our experiences have shown that they are happy to act upon understanding the impact that their FOG practices will have on their own communities.

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