Cutting Back Thanksgiving Fat: APWA Highlights Growing ‘Fatberg’ Sewer Problem as Americans Dump Fats, Oils & Grease Down the Drain

Public works organization shares tips for preventing fatbergs & sewer backups costing up to $1 billion annually

KANSAS CITY, Mo.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–#fatberg–Before slipping into food comas after devouring their Thanksgiving meals, many Americans will inadvertently create a gruesome public safety hazard in sewers across the nation — fatbergs. Sometimes tipping the scales at several tons each, the congealed masses of fats, oils and grease (FOG) from meat, dairy, condiments and cooking oils washed down the drains create buildup obstructing pipes and causing sewage to back up into homes and businesses or overflow into streets, according to the American Public Works Association (APWA).

The Environmental Protection Agency reports FOG causes 47% of sewer blockages, by clinging to wipes, feminine hygiene products, paper towels, disposable masks, rags and other items that shouldn’t be flushed. They also cause buildup of toxic compounds such as hydrogen sulfide and concentrations of other chemicals.

Taking days, sometimes weeks, to remove fatbergs, municipalities spend as much as $1 billion annually on maintenance and repairs, according to the National Association of Clean Water Agencies. This doesn’t include the thousands of dollars individual homeowners may need to shell out on their own repairs.

Although thousands of public workers tirelessly skim FOG and debris from wastewater and remove clogs and fatbergs from pipes across America each day, they need citizens’ help in protecting public health.

“As expensive as it is to call a plumber to snake a home drain, the cost is exponentially higher to repair a sewer main or wastewater treatment plant,” said Scott Grayson, APWA chief executive officer. “Every bit of FOG contributes to the problem, and each of us has the responsibility to be good environmental stewards by disposing of it responsibly. By keeping FOG out of their community systems, Americans support public workers in keeping their cities safer.”

Ahead of this cooking holiday, APWA offers tips for keeping FOG out of the water system:

  • Solidify large amounts oil from deep fat fryers by mixing it with cat litter, coffee grounds or other absorbent material.
  • Scrape drippings, gravy and other grease into a lidded container and allow to congeal before discarding in the trash.
  • Pour grease into a sealed container before soaking a greasy pan, then place paper towels over the drain to catch residual grease as you pour water down the drain.
  • Avoid using big jugs, as they can leak and make a mess of collection trucks and disposal facilities. When there’s a large volume of oil, take it to a local waste or recycling center for safe disposal.

What happens to fatbergs and clogs after extraction? Many municipalities find an alternate use for it. Some, like the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) in Madison, WI, accept truckloads collected from restaurants and industrial food processing facilities at a treatment plant with biodigestion tanks that convert the substance to natural gas that powers the facility and offsets its energy footprint.

“Wastewater workers are innovative recyclers who turn trash into treasure each day,” said Grayson. “Not only do they return safe water to the environment, but their behind-the-scenes work ensures Americans are protected and healthy. They truly are unsung heroes.”

For visuals and more information about the herculean effort public workers put into treating America’s water, APWA offers these resources:

APWA members are available for local tours giving a glimpse into area wastewater treatment and fatberg prevention efforts. Contact Jared Shilhanek to schedule.

About APWA

The American Public Works Association ( is a not-for-profit, international organization of more than 30,000 members involved in the field of public works. With 62 chapters and 97 branches throughout North America, APWA promotes professional excellence and public awareness through education, advocacy and the exchange of knowledge.


Jared Shilhanek

Director of Marketing and Communications

(816) 595-5257

[email protected]

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