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There’s a reason this is the plumber’s busiest season, and it’s not because we’re all consuming so many yams and Brussels sprouts.

Many of our favorite holiday treats are also larded with fat, fried in oil, or folded in other artery-clogging lipids.  But you know about your cardiovascular system. What you may not know is that the same stuff can also clog Newton’s sewer arteries.

One of the things Chestnut Hill Square’s developers were required to do before they put a roof on the Wegman’s building or the retail hub was to pay for a municipal study of where the area’s fats, oils and grease (aka FOG) lining the sewer pipes around Chestnut Hill were coming from—the most likely candidates being restaurant fryolaters or greases entering from their disposals from other cooking. FOG is one of the main causes of sewer backups (around 47% according to the EPA)—and not just for restaurants.

Yes, the folks who make your fries crisp are a bigger source of pipe fat (which they could sell, by the by, rather than dumping down the common drain). But any family can cause an infarction if they pour the roast drippings, latke oil or excess melted butter directly into the pipes.

FOG will clog—as it cools, it can become solid; it can stick to roots (think you don’t have roots in your sewer pipes? Think again), and soon you have a problem. The resulting cleanup can be expensive—and not just for you. The city’s sewer department does weekly jet-water flushing of known grease “hot spots,” (areas downstream of popular fryolators), but can’t be expected to know when residential pipes might seize up.

A better solution is to collect the stuff. Some municipalities already offer residential collection—Orlando, Mansfield, Texas, Madison, Wisconsin, and Wiscasset, Maine .

Collecting residential grease doesn’t need to be hard. In fact, Billerica is piloting a program with Envirotek, a local recycling company. On hazardous waste collection days, Envirotek collects used kitchen fat. It provides the staff, the containers, even the educational materials. The first time out–about six weeks ago–they got several hundred gallons, according to President Rick Hadley.

“People didn’t know where to bring it before,” he said. “Most of them were dumping it down the drain, some put it in the trash, out in the woods…It’s such a waste.”

The goop is so valuable, Hadley said, that Envirotek pays $1.25/gallon. They sell it on to be processed into biodiesel, heating oil, hydraulic oil, even oil for your chain saw–so you don’t dump petroleum products in the woods.

“It’s good money, but it’s not so much the money you get back,” he said. “It’s that you’re not getting that in the drains.”

Newton doesn’t do this yet. But I’m willing to share my telephone research with any city official who wants it.

In the meantime, you can save those cooled artery-clogging fats, wrap them in something that burns and toss it with the garbage (the Worcester incinerator will handle it nicely). Or stick it in a coffee can until you get that biodiesel car.

(For the ultimate in massive artery clogs, see the National Geographic exploration of London’s sewers. Just don’t do so before lunch.)







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