Five tactics for tackling the Thanksgiving grease-apocalypse

It happens every year during the holidays: Home cooks rev up their ovens and deep fryers and in go millions of turkeys in preparation for Thanksgiving day feasts. 

The following day, and sometimes even the same day, plumbers and sewer district workers get called out to deal with blockages, back-ups and overflows. It’s messy and expensive. And it’s all completely unnecessary.

But, as someone who works in wastewater treatment, you knew that.

Thanksgiving turkey being deep fried

The question is, how do you eliminate, or least reduce the impact of, the annual Thanksgiving grease-apocalypse. The goal, obviously, is to convince as many people as possible about the dangers of dumping turkey grease down the drain.

What to say

Your public education and awareness campaign should include information what you want the public to do (and not do), and why it’s important.

The what: Don’t dump grease, oil, salad dressing or other food waste down the drain of your sink. Don’t flush it down a toilet, either.

The why: It can cause backups and clogs in the sewer system, requiring expensive repairs that cost you, as a utility customer, more money. It can also cause back-ups and clogs in your own plumbing, so you may need to hire a plumber to fix them. 

In addition to messages about fats, oil and grease (FOG), you may also want to include messages about not dumping stringy food or solid waste – think potato peels - into kitchen drains, even if a garbage disposal is being used.

This may be too much detail for a simple announcement, but on your website and other places you can include this information

How to get the message out

Though no communication method is perfect, there are a number of relatively inexpensive ways to get your message out to area residents.

1. Enlist the news media. This is a great time to pull together a press announcement and send it to your local newspaper, TV stations and radio stations. Throw in some stats about how much trouble grease causes locally and nationally and chances are you’ll get some news coverage. For maximum impact, you should plan to do this in the week leading up to Thanksgiving.

2. Use newsletters. If your town issues some kind of email or print newsletter, see if you can get in the issue before Thanksgiving. A short article with some links to more information on your website can be help get the word out.

3. Talk to apartment managers. Renters may have the least incentive to properly dispose of grease. If there’s a plumbing problem, the landlord will handle it. But apartment managers have plenty of incentive. They don’t want to pay for extra plumbing repairs, and they certainly don’t want to be handling maintenance issues on Thanksgiving or the following weekend. Consider printing an inexpensive flier and asking apartment managers to distribute it.

4. Shop the message. Grocery stores, of course, will be full of Thanksgiving-themed promotions and food products. Call store managers and ask if they will post a flier near Thanksgiving produce promotions or place a stack of handbills at cash registers.

5. Advertise the consequences. Finally, if you have time and the budget, you may want to consider paid advertising. This can take many forms: Billboards, direct mail pieces, movie theater ads, TV commercials and radio messages. Ads tend to be more successful when their messages are simple and clear, so focus this one on keeping FOG out of the drainage. 

After Thanksgiving

If your campaign goes well and you don’t have any blockages or other problems over Thanksgiving, congratulations! If you do have problems, though, it might be worth making another call to your local media to see if they’ll cover those problems. 

After all, even though Thanksgiving is over, Christmas is just a few weeks away and it’s not too early to start thinking about next year’s Thanksgiving.

Good luck conquering grease-apocalypse.

Photo courtesy of James McCauley/CC 2.0 license