Sunday, June 16, 2013

Trash the Fat

I heard a splash when I tossed my filthy Tevas into the empty bathtub. I pulled back the shower curtain and saw gray Idaho silt from my sandals mixing with dishwater, spaghetti, and tomato paste. A ring of meatball grease circled the tub. The neighbors’ kitchen sink had backed up while I was in the field for a week.

Our 1940s-era apartments had nooks for phones, built-in folding ironing boards, and Murphy beds, but no garbage disposals. I was most dismayed by the food I found floating with my Tevas, but I learned recently that the meatball grease probably caused more problems for the city.

Meridian, Idaho’s Go with the Flow Tour on June 6, 2013 followed the path water takes from the city’s wells to its wastewater treatment plant.

We filled bottles at one of the wells, were subjected to wet pranks at the water tower, and drove up Meridian Road, where the city is laying new water lines while the road is being widened.

At our final stop we saw how gravity and bacteria do the heavy lifting at the treatment plant. Gravity settles out solids into sludge and various kinds of bacteria break down dissolved impurities. The city's short film about water's outbound journey from our homes premiered at the tour. You can watch it here.

We learned that the unattractive foam on wastewater is produced by a bacterium that feeds on grease.

Microthrix parvicella forms hair-like filaments less than 1/100th the width of a human hair. The bacteria produce foam that creates problem at the treatment plant and requires special techniques to control.

The City of Meridian's Trash the Fat program reduces the amount of cooking grease reaching the wastewater facility. The Environmental Division gives away plastic scrapers and lids. Just scrape grease into a can, cover with the lid, and put in the fridge. The grease will solidify when it cools. Then put the can in the trash--but keep the lid for next time.

If you’re wondering what happens to grease that gets into the sewer, the Meridian Environmental Division shows you here. Don’t look while you’re eating.

If I'd known then what I know now, I would have walked across the hall, knocked on the door, and given my almost-20-year old neighbors a plastic scraper and lid.

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