A Case for Collective FOG Management

A Case for Collective FOG Management

A Case for Collective FOG Management

Imagine a city where your residential waste management was left up to you. What would happen?

First, the municipality would establish regulations that mandate that waste must be properly disposed of. Then, a residential waste collection industry would pop up to compete for your waste disposal dollar. So far, so good.

Most residents would contract with a waste collector to have pick-ups on a regular, weekly basis – whether their trash bins are full or not. Other residents would wait until their bins were full before the called the waste collector, in order to minimize costs. The most frugal residents would even purchase the huge trash bins in order to minimize the number of pick-ups, and could probably extend the collection period to three or four weeks, in spite of the smells of old trash. In some cases, residents who are calling the waste collector only when their bins are full, will forget to make a call, or cannot get immediate service from the collection company, and their bins may overflow and send trash all through the neighborhood. In some rare cases, since waste collection would be a very visible expense coming out of their pockets every week, some residents may act illegally by dumping trash in parks, sneaking it into their neighbors bins or into industrial bins or some other illegal dumping scheme.

Simpson managementEach residential street would see several different competitor’s trucks, each day of the week, since different household would no doubt contract with different companies. Some companies may even offer a discount if they could collect at 4:00 am, in spite the noise. Efficiency would decrease as the distance between pick-ups increased for each competitor, generally increasing fuel and labor costs (and increasing greenhouse gas emissions).

Each waste collection company would have its own central processing and distribution plant, and would find their most economic disposal options. Sometimes these smaller operations will be professionally managed, sometimes they will be poorly managed creating their own environmental damage. Recycling or beneficial use of waste would most likely disappear, due to the competitive environment and a lack of any central planning.

The question of cost would be a long debate. Costs would go up due to the loss of economies of scale; smaller fleets, inefficient routes, smaller processing plants, less negotiating power and the need for profit. Some would say that the market would find ways of becoming more competitive; lower labor rates, lower fleet maintenance costs, skirting regulatory costs etc. In general, most residents would pay more under a market system, while those looking for bargains could probably find them.

For all of these reasons; odor and nuisance trash, illegal dumping, inefficient, noisy and polluting trucks, lack of incentive for recycling, and higher cost structures, virtually all municipalities use a collective (private or municipal) residential waste management system. Makes perfect sense.

Reality check! Current FOG collection system is the wild west

Yet this imaginary, non-collective, free market collection system that I have described above for residential waste collection is exactly what exists for the collection of Fats, Oils and Grease (FOG) from food service establishments (FSEs) in virtually all municipalities. FSEs have financial “incentives” to overfill their grease interceptors, sending their grease into sewers and causing downstream blockages. FOG collection companies have competitive pressures and sometimes act illegally by dumping FOG waste into sewers or illegal landfills. There is little incentive to use FOG as a resource when landfill costs are lower. Small fleets of polluting trucks have inefficient routes and no economies of scale. In short, the current FOG collection system is the wild west, with unintended consequences that promotes FOG overflows, grease blockages and illegal dumping. There are no incentives to keep FOG out of landfills, create green energy and lower GHGs, or to optimize the costs to FSE end users through collective purchasing and economies of scale

It’s time to change the model!

Imagine a collective FOG management system, modelled on existing residential waste management best practices;

  • Municipalities manage a cradle to grave FOG management program
  • Municipalities select a single FOG collection company based on a competitive bid
  • The FOG collection company becomes ultra-efficient due to economies of scale and automation such as smart FOG monitors and FOG management databases
  • The FOG collection company is incented to eliminate FSE overflows (saving the municipal sewer department millions of dollars in sewer maintenance) and maintain a sustainable fleet due to the competitive bid criteria
  • The municipality has ownership of vast quantities of FOG resource, which can be used to generate biogas and green energy, offsetting greenhouse gas emissions, and generating revenue for the municipality
  • FSEs get reduced FOG collection rates

It’s a win-win-win based on a waste collection model that already exists.

Rob Abernethy has more than 30 years of experience in the environmental, water and wastewater industries. His past senior management roles include General Manager of American Carbon Services, President of MS Filter and Managing Director of Green Turtle Technologies. Abernethy is currently serving as Managing Director of Ecoinsight Instruments, an instrumentation company that provides smart-meter technology to the water and wastewater market. His focus has been commercialization of innovative water and wastewater treatment technology companies.