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It's the Grease Police!

By Joel Hall

When your grease trap's full, and it doesn't look good ... who you gonna call?

The Environmental Compliance Division of the Clayton County Water Authority (CCWA).

Since August 2001, when the program was started, the Environmental Compliance Division of the CCWA, often called the "Grease Police," has been on a mission to educate restaurateurs, food servers, and the general public about the dangers of improperly disposing of grease.

The division is also tasked with monitoring the grease trap levels of more than 800 county establishments that serve food, to make sure large amounts of grease never make it to waste-water treatment centers.

Jim Poff, CCWA water reclamation department manager, explained that large amounts of grease can wreak havoc on the county's sewer system and make the treatment of waste water much more difficult.

"We have hundreds of miles of sewer lines that are part of the conveyance system that brings sewage to our plants," said Poff. "Part of the job with maintenance is to make sure that there are no blocks in the line. When people discharge grease into the system, it contributes to blockages."

Blockages can cause "the waste water to come out of the manholes and come on to the ground, and that is totally not acceptable," Poff added. "The pump stations can't operate properly because it has a huge grease mat in there when it should just be waste water."

Monte Ellis, an environmental compliance inspector with the CCWA, said the little bit of grease that comes off of dirty dishes "will go a long way" toward creating problems in the water treatment process.

Ellis and a team of other inspectors regularly travel to restaurants, schools, daycare centers, hospitals, retirements facilities, and other places that serve food to make sure they have a grease trap, that the grease traps are emptied regularly, and that the grease in them is disposed of in an environmentally safe manor.

"We're trying to make sure that all of the restaurants are pumping out their grease, so it doesn't get into our sewers," Ellis said.

All restaurants in Georgia are required to have a grease trap, which traps grease that drains from sinks, floors, and preparation tables. Many older restaurants have indoor grease traps, which are required to hold at least 50 gallons, while many new restaurants have outdoor grease traps, which must be able to hold at least 1,500 gallons.

Indoor grease traps must be emptied every month and outdoor grease traps must be emptied every three months. Every time traps are emptied, they are tracked by a manifest which shows when the trap was emptied, who emptied the trap (and if they are certified), and where the grease was taken.

If the traps are consistently over 25 percent full, the Grease Police have the power to issue an immediate pump order, charge fines of up to $1,000, and have the CCWA shut off water to the restaurant.

Ellis said, however, that the CCWA has never had to resort to extreme measures, largely due to the education efforts of the Environmental Compliance Division. In addition to monitoring, the division also runs a Grease Education Program at apartment complexes and schools, handing out educational brochures and deputizing children to make sure their parents are disposing of grease properly.

"We give things to the kids so they can write up a ticket," said Ellis. "It excites the kids because it's something that they can say their parents are doing."

Ellis said the food service industry in Clayton has responded well to the efforts of the Grease Police. "If we're having a problem with some restaurant, we'll red flag them, but since we started the program, the majority of the restaurants have been pretty good about being in compliance."