Bay Crossings Article

Protect Your Watershed This Holiday Season

Deb Self, Executive Director
From the December 2010 edition of Bay Crossings

When fats, oils and grease from pots, pans and fryers get washed down the drain, they congeal inside the sewer lines and build up over time. Even small amounts of grease and oily scraps down the drain can lead to sewage backing up in your home, backyard or neighborhood—and as we all know, backups are not a welcome guest at any festive gathering. Additionally, when backups wash into the street or storm drain, raw sewage ends up in our local creeks and San Francisco Bay, harming the marine ecosystem and the birds, fish, seals and sea lions that thrive on clean water.

Some solutions to the Bay’s sewage problems require complex legal and policy remedies, such as long-term improvements to sewage infrastructure in the Bay Area. Baykeeper has been working on these legal and policy solutions to reducing sewage spills to the Bay for over a decade. But residents of the Bay Area can help us stop sewage backups caused by fats, oil and grease with simple changes to household practices. Baykeeper and the East Bay Municipal Utilities District (EBMUD) have developed some recommendations to help people reduce the burden on our sewage treatment systems:

  • Pour cooled fats, oils and grease into a can with a lid, or mix it with an absorbent material such as cat litter, and dispose in the garbage.
  • Wipe down greasy pots, pans and dishes with a paper towel before washing. Dispose of the paper towel in your kitchen scrap recycling or in the garbage.
  • Do not use hot water, soap or the garbage disposal to wash grease down the drain. Water cools through the pipes, causing the grease to harden into clogs further along in the sewer system.
  • Drop off large amounts of cooking oil—like used oil from a turkey fryer—to be recycled at your city’s residential cooking oil drop-off locations (see sidebar on this page).

In addition to making changes to the way your household disposes of fats, oil and grease, you can help put an end to sewage spills by supporting upgrades to your city’s sewage infrastructure. Many California sanitary sewer systems were built in the early part of the twentieth century and are in poor condition with broken and crumbling pipes. The Bay Area’s winter rains flood these deteriorating sewer systems, leading to spills in our streets, creeks and beaches. Almost every rainy season, millions of gallons of untreated and partially treated sewage are discharged into the watershed from public treatment plants surrounding the Bay. Baykeeper has advocated for new laws to protect our waters from these yearly floods of sewage. We are also targeting the worst sewage polluters around the Bay and making sure local cities are not in violation of our state and federal clean water laws.

Used cooking oil collection sites in San Francisco and the East Bay: 

Select Whole Foods Stores, every Friday, 11am to 3pm

Whole Foods SOMA 399 4th St. (415) 618-0050

Whole Foods Franklin 1765 California St. (415) 674-0500

Whole Foods Potrero Hill 450 Rhode Island St. (415) 552-1155

Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council Recycling Center (HANC)
755 Frederick St.
Monday - Saturday, 9am to 4pm
Sunday 12pm to 4

Dogpatch Biofuels
765 Pennsylvania Ave.
Tuesday - Friday 11am to 7pm
Saturday 11am to 4pm
Closed on Sunday and Monday
(415) 643-3435

Household Drop-off Waste Center
Recycle Road between
401 and 501 Tunnel Avenue
Thursday, Friday - Saturday, from 8am to 4pm
(415) 330-1400

West Contra Costa County Integrated Waste Mangement Authority
101 Pittsburg Avenue, Richmond
Thursday, Fridays and the first Saturday of every month
9am to 4pm (closed noon
to 12:30)
(888) 412-9277

Central Contra Costa County Household Hazardous Waste Collection Program
4797 Imhoff Place, Martinez
Monday - Saturday, 9am to 4pm
(800) 646-1431

EBMUD Wastewater Treatment Plant
2020 Wake Avenue, Oakland
Self-service receptacle
(510) 287-1651