By Peter Davey
London, Ontario’s “Your Turn” program to reduce fats, oils and grease in sewage systems has seen remarkable achievements and offers lessons in public outreach and awareness to municipalities.
In 2008, the City of London, Ontario commissioned a fats, oils and grease (FOG) inspection program. While the initial focus had been on restaurants, a surprising number of FOG “hotspots” were also found in residential areas. The “Your Turn” program was created to assist in the proper disposal of residential FOG and to increase public awareness of sewer systems and wastewater treatment.
The program uses biodegradable paper cups, printed with information about the negative effects FOG has on sewer systems and the costs that taxpayers shoulder to fix them. In 2014, the “Your Turn” program partnered with the London fire department, raising awareness about the dangers of kitchen grease fires. This also means that the cost of the cups is shared between sewer operations and the fire department.
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Barry Orr is a sewer outreach and control inspector with the City of London. He has been the face of the “Your Turn” program and other initiatives aimed at protecting pumps and pipes. He says neighborhoods participating in the program show instant improvement in sewer health. There have been huge reductions in the need for sewer cleaning and call-outs for pump station clogging. This means that London’s sewer operations department can allocate time to other projects, expanding maintenance areas without increasing staff.
Lessons in awareness
Orr says the main reason for the success of the “Your Turn” program is the “take-away” factor and its two-fold approach with other programs.
“You have to find something that fits and traditionally that was pamphlets and videos,” says Orr. “However, the cup is a tangible item you can see and connect with.”
Outreach staff make sure to connect with residents too, emphasizing the fact that they are also members of the community. For some areas of the City, flushable wipes and other forms of garbage cause more damage than FOG. In these areas, staff make sure to talk about the definition of “flushable” and explain that baby wipes, floss and cleaning towels don’t make the cut.
London’s partnership with the fire department is another example of the two-fold approach working well. The fire department conducts an “After the Fire” program in which firefighters canvass a neighborhood that has seen a fire. They now have cups, reminding residents of the dangers of cooking fires and to responsibly dispose of their kitchen grease. Orr says cups will also be distributed as part of the smoke alarm program that runs every spring.
The cup is indeed connecting. A number of municipalities in Canada have adopted, or are investigating, similar programs. If the collection of FOG can be paired with biogas generation, renewable energy is another benefit that the “Your Turn” program can help achieve.
Peter Davey is Assistant Editor of ES&E Magazine.