Keep the lines open: Dallas program focuses on keeping grease out of collection system

Keep the lines open: Dallas program focuses on keeping grease out of collection system
After a holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas, the recycling stations dotting the Dallas area become a popular destination for people who like to deep fry their turkeys. Dallas Water Utilities crews pick up the recycled fats, oils and grease and deliver it to the city’s Southside Wastewater Treatment Plant where it fed to the digester and adds to the methane production that helps generate electricity for the facility. (Photos courtesy of Dallas Water Utilities)

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Normally Helen Cantril Dulac finds her agenda full of speaking engagements with school-age students in the Dallas area, but in the next few weeks her audiences will be a little older and a little bit further down the road.

As the coordinator of the Cease the Grease program operated by Dallas Water Utilities, Dulac speaks to up to 200 classrooms per year as she tries to spread the word about the importance of keeping fats, oils and grease out of the municipal sewer system. But in the coming days, she is scheduled to speak at two separate gatherings of professionals already involved in the wastewater collection and treatment industry.

Monday Dulac will present two separate talks at a two-day continuing education program being hosted in Corpus Christi by the Texas Water Utilities Association. Her primary assignment is a presentation about DWU’s Cease the Grease program. The second class focuses on the process of implementing a pretreatment program that will comply with Texas statutes governing the discharge of commercial and industrial effluent into wastewater collection systems. She is taking that assignment as a replacement for another speaker who had to cancel.

A little less than two weeks after the trip to Corpus Christi, Dulac will deliver her Cease the Grease talk at a March 8 Capacity, Operations, Management and Maintenance conference hosted by the Clean Waters Initiative of the Houston-Galveston Area Council several hundred miles up the Gulf Coast from Corpus Christi.

Although Dulac is accustomed to speaking with school-age audiences, she believes her presentations in the next few weeks will be important because they may spark new interest in wastewater collections professionals who are most comfortable working with commercial and industrial customers rather than the residential customers who can be the largest source of FOG in a wastewater system.

“I think the biggest thing is that my audience is going to be regulators, the people who enforce pretreatment regulations with commercial customers like restaurants and hospitals and schools,” says Dulac. “They’re just not used to dealing with the issue of residential customers, because when it comes to people pouring grease down the drain, you can’t just write them a ticket.”

Teaching the regulators effective ways to deal with residential customers is important, Dulac says, because they can put a much heavier burden on a utility’s collection system.

“Look at us in Dallas,” she says. “We have more than two million residential customers (including residents in surrounding suburbs that contract with Dallas) and we have 5,000 restaurants. So who can do the most damage to your system?”

Dulac says she will be sharing a success story when she talks to the two conferences about the Cease the Grease program, which was launched in 2005, two years before she joined the DWU staff. One measure of that success is the radically declining number of sewer blockages caused by FOG in the extensive DWU collection system. In 2005, DWU crews were called upon to clear out 112 such blockages in the system, but in the fiscal year that ended last September, they responded to just four clogged sewer lines, a 96 percent decrease.

From the classroom presentations to public appearances and public service ads featuring Earl the Plumber, a guy who loves to make money by cleaning out home sewer lines filled with FOG, the Cease the Grease program has focused on heightening public awareness of the problems that come from pouring oils, fats and grease down their drains. The program also makes a point of informing people about the alternatives, and Dulac and her colleagues make public appearances at every community festival and neighborhood event they can reach, setting up tables and passing out literature and tools about the problem to help people.

The most popular freebies passed out to the public include zip-closure foil bags for collecting fats and grease from the kitchen, scrapers to help get the fats and grease out of pots and pans, sponges with a message about proper disposal and funnels to help individuals pour used cooking oil and grease into bottles or containers.

Dulac says the Cease the Grease program has placed more than 20 collection stations for disposal of oils, fats and grease around the city. In the early years, she says, the city collected 300 or 400 gallons per year. Now, she says, the average is around 400 gallons per month.

“People bring it in everything from 5-gallon oil jugs like you get at warehouse stores to little baby food bottles full of fats maybe from one meal,” says Dulac.

DWU crews collect the recycled FOG and take it to the digester at the DWU Southside Wastewater Treatment Plant where it adds to the production of methane that is used to generate supplemental power for the facility.

Even if customers can’t be talked into bringing their used oil and cooking fats to the recycling stations, Dulac says they are encouraged to avoid putting them in the system.

“We try to encourage them to recycle, but our second alternative is to put it in the trash,” she says. “That is much better than putting it down the drain.”


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