Fat Trappers

The city of Houston is spending millions of dollars to fix a problem that could be solved by residents. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, people who dump grease and oils down the kitchen sink are contributing to a major waste water problem.

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Houston Public Works employees call it FOG: Fats, Oils and Greases. The city spends between $5 million and $6 million to unclog FOG from pipes and sewer lines. That's because thousands of people pour their cooking grease and oils down the drain. Those oils eventually solidify and cause serious blockages in the system. Houston Mayor Bill White.

"It's a big, big problem. We had something like a significant double digit percentage of the amount of money that we spend trying to fix these wastewater problems is caused by grease and fats."

In fact, it's 50 percent of the problem. Half of all the pipeline blockages in the city are attributed to grease build-up. The city maintains 6,400 miles of wastewater lines. And about three percent of them have to be completely replaced every year, due in large part to this problem. So the city planned to distribute foil bags to residents, asking them to dispose of oils in the bags. But Councilmember Anne Clutterbuck questions the effectiveness of such a plan.

"I don't know that handing them little bitty foil disposable bags is actually going to solve the problem."

The city was going to spend $63,000 on those bags. Clutterbucks says she thinks a better idea is to educate the public on how to dispose of grease, instead of handing them a bag that they'll end up throwing away.

"It's an important effort, but I fear that this particular aspect of the effort might be misdirected and there might be a more efficient tax-payer friendly important educational componant to this that we could do without spending $63,000."

The mayor says he's open to an educational effort, but it has to be something that actually works.

"Changing behavior is difficult. Too often there are these campaigns, like most PSA campaigns, where nobody bothers to test before or after to see whether they're effective. I think it's because they don't want to really know. But if we're going to change behavior, then what is it, besides somebody's intuition, and where have they seen that they've been able to change behavior from one thing to another."

Several councilmembers agreed with Clutterbuck and Councilmember Addie Wiseman tagged the ordinance that would have authorized the so-called fat trapper bags. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...