Consuming too many greasy foods is obviously bad for your health, but it turns out food grease can also wreak havoc on the environment by clogging up sewer pipes, according to a recent Seattle PI story.

The Seattle Public Utilities found that each month the equivalent of seven large swimming pools of grease make their way down Seattle’s drains, causing about 30 percent of Seattle’s sewer backups.

Once fats, oils and greases, or FOGs, make it into the pipes, they eventually glob into a hard substance that can block pipes and cause stinky bubbles to foam up in your sink drain. But the problem isn’t just in Seattle. Many cities also have similar issues, especially ones with old pipes or meat-eating residents.

The obvious culprits are restaurants that wash a lot of greasy dishes. To help cut down on the greasy issue, the city of Seattle is now requiring that all restaurants install grease traps to minimize the amount of muck that makes it into the drain. But since some Seattle restaurants opened before this requirement went into effect, only about 1,000 out of 2,600 food service places have these devices, according to the article.

Residential homes are another common source of the grease, especially when people put food items like sour cream, bacon bits and even ice cream down the garbage disposal, which wreaks havoc on the pipes. In fact, more than half of Seattle’s clogged pipes are found in residential neighborhoods, pollution prevention coordinator Julie Howell told the PI.

"One thing that has been a real surprise in this industry — one thing people have learned over time is that there is much bigger residential component than people might think," she said.

Though a little bit of food grease down the drain seems harmless enough, scraping that gunk out of the pipes can actually be quite costly, around $1,500 a pop, which is why Seattle is trying to educate people about the issue. In addition to putting up informational posters, the utility agency’s Web site also has a ton of tips on how to keep grease from clogging the drain.

Of course, one fast and easy way to cut the grease is to simply not eat greasy foods in the first place, which is both better for the environment and your health. But for those days when you absolutely must indulge with greasy foods, be sure to scrape the food grease off of your plates and pans and toss it into a throwaway container. This may seem wasteful, but it’s better than mucking up your pipes or your compost bin with grease, which this MNN article warns about.

Some restaurants have begun giving their food grease to local manufacturers that convert the grease into biofuel or even soap, such as the high-end hand soap company, Further, according to this MNN report. If all else fails and your drain is already clogged, trying using an eco-friendly drain cleaner like Earth Enzymes or CLR, which is great for busting up heavy-duty messes.

Greased piping
Grease from French fries, hot wings and other oily foods is clogging Seattle's drainpipes.