06. September 2022 | Water companies are prioritising engagement with the hospitality sector in their drive to keep sewers free of fats, oils and grease (FOG). Network protection managers at Southern Water and United Utilities, Stephen Williams and Andrew Peet, tell Laura Su, managing director of the European FOG Summit, why cross-sector partnerships must be forged.
Laura Su, European FOG Summit: Why is hospitality a key area of focus for water companies’ network protection teams?
Andrew Peet, United Utilities: Due to the large numbers of food service establishments (FSEs) opening up, the potential for fats, oil and grease (FOG) entering the sewers from commercial kitchens is greater than it ever has been. Within society, there is much more awareness of environmental issues and the impact of foul flooding, and stronger mitigation is expected by customers and regulators. These factors, combined with high costs of dealing with FOG-related sewer blockages, reinforces the need to reduce the number, frequency and severity of incidents. Hospitality’s role in achieving this cannot be underestimated. That is why the mission of the European FOG Summit 2022 – to bring water and hospitality together for a sustainable FOG future – is a vital one.
Stephen Williams, Southern Water: We want hospitality to really engage in this discussion. Although the sector is a stakeholder in the FOG lifecycle, it has always been as a producer of FOG, rather than being part of the solution. Do FSEs have a full understanding of the equipment they should be using to prevent drain issues, sewer flooding and environmental damage? As a sector, we need to know what hospitality does and does not understand about FOG risks and management.
How are United Utilities and Southern Water working with hospitality to reduce FOG?
AP: United Utilities has been identifying FOG blockages or at-risk areas and engaging with local FSEs to encourage installation of appropriate grease removal equipment. Mostly, we are well-received, and many venues have installed equipment as a result of our engagement. We are focused on education with the ultimate aim of reducing FOG at source.
SW: At Southern Water, we are advising hospitality facilities at the highest levels. We have successfully engaged with major chains such as Mitchells & Butlers, Marston’s, McDonald’s and associations like the National Federation of Fish Friers, as well as kitchen operators and landlords of big shopping centres. We have asked them to assist in writing new standards for the operation of grease management equipment through the British Standards Institute. New Publicly Available Standards (PAS) – 406 and 409 – are in the process of being written, with input from these larger companies.
What are the biggest challenges network protection teams face when it comes to working with hospitality businesses to reduce FOG?
AP: A lack of promotable, recognised independent standards for installing grease removal equipment is the main issue we face. An FSE can purchase a device that claims to be able to stop FOG from entering the sewer but, in reality, is not suitable for that particular kitchen. There can also be initial resistance from FSE owners to install equipment that will cost them a reasonable amount of money, especially if they don’t understand how the environmental issues could affect them.
SW: Numbers and engagement are huge challenges. Southern Water has approximately 28,000 FSEs in its region, costing around £15m to deal with FOG and related blockages. To visit this number of individual premises is difficult, which is why we are seeking support from hospitality businesses and organisations at a national level to spread the message, support smaller traders and encourage all to assist in protecting the environment.
How can water and hospitality work better together?
AP: By getting to know each other better and forming closer links so that we understand each other’s position and the challenges we both face.
SW: One example could be the two sectors working together to draft a usable standard for the function, specification, installation, maintenance and cleaning of grease management, to make it as effective as it can be. This could possibly lead to regulation or legislation requiring the fitting of grease management to maximise the return for the circular economy. There are major untapped opportunities here – FOG is a great source of feedstock to both the biofuel and anaerobic digestion sector, to fill the gap between the end of fossil fuel-powered vehicles and a fully electric road system. The Renewable Transport Fuels Association is attending the FOG Summit to share this goal and demonstrate how FOG is a fully repurposable waste. BioteCH4, event supporter, will also detail how this waste product can be a perfect source fuel for the production of clean green electricity.
Can you share any examples of FSEs working particularly well to keep FOG out the sewers?
AP: There are many. A hotel group in Kendal recently fitted grease removal units at three of their sites after we met with them at one of their properties. Following a programme of proactive visits in Liverpool, an educational establishment with a cookery school installed five grease removal units. A local café bar in Grasmere also installed a grease removal unit, as a result of a village-wide awareness campaign. These are just a few examples.
SW: Best practice is applied by many of the larger chains who have an overview of the FOG situation. These businesses are more than willing to assist. Where we need help now is to engage with the smaller operators who do not necessarily have the funds to install full grease management. We are hoping to engage with platforms such as Deliveroo, Just Eat and Uber Eats, as well as the water and wastewater retailers, to provide discounted equipment to help their customers.
What would you like to see achieved between water and hospitality over the next decade?
AP: I would like to see FOG management considered in new kitchen design, as well as refits and refurbishments, rather than trying to retrofit grease removal equipment. Additionally, closer working with equipment manufactures and installers to ensure all equipment is correctly sized and installed every time.
SW: To see FOG eventually classified as a food waste – as it is in Scotland and Northern Ireland – would make it more accessible to the circular economy. Legislation leading this would help immensely and we are hoping to open up discussions with DEFRA. We have a lot to talk about at the FOG Summit! If all water companies stand together with a common message, promote best practice and work towards introducing standards and perhaps legislation, we can protect and enhance the environment we all live in. The more of us who join the conversation and work in unity, the easier the path will be.
Southern Water and United Utilities are partnering the European FOG Summit 2022, which takes place on 19 October at Titanic Hotel, Stanley Dock, Liverpool, UK, with networking events planned for 18 October.