UConn’s Service Learning project FOG Management takes initiative for illegal grease dumping in Hartford

Illustration by Dionel de Borja, staff artist/The Daily Campus

We all know what it’s like to cook bacon and then have a leftover layer of grease on the pan that no one knows what to do with. The University of Connecticut is currently holding an internship through their Service Learning department that revolves around grease disposal in every restaurant in Hartford.  

UConn’s Service Learning is a facet of the university that focuses on pairing student’s skills with community needs. Mackenzie Egbert, a graduate student currently completing her master’s in public policy, and sixth-semester management information systems major Angela Abraham, work with other students in a program that focuses on FOG: fat, oil and grease management.  

Egbert and her colleagues’ specific program is a collaboration with UConn, the Metropolitan District Commission  and REA, a system that was invented by a UConn professor Dr. Richard Parnas.  

“Our program seeks to mediate and alleviate the grease disposal issue by, in theory, creating an educational program with restaurants,” Egbert said. “UConn students will go into local restaurants in Hartford, ask a couple casual survey questions assessing their levels of compliance, all while educating them on proper dumping protocols.”  

After getting a general feeling of the restaurants dumping habits, students will then offer REA’s services to remove grease for them.  

The special element that separates Dr. Parnas’s way of disposing grease from other methods is that he uses brown grease.  

“He [Parnas] uses brown grease, which, as I understand it, is a very difficult one to convert it over to biofuel,” Egbert said. “He patented a process that is clean, easy and takes what is essentially garbage and converts it into premium biofuel.”  

According to Egbert, UConn now owns this patent, which means that every time the patent is used, UConn makes a small earning. Dr. Parna’s company began working with the MDC through personal connections, and then shortly after UConn began to become involved. While the work is mostly done through REA and the MDC, UConn provides labor and makes it executable.  

The project consists of nine paid interns, two students who are using it as academic credit and four students from a partnership with the business school. Come summer, the students will begin to survey every single restaurant in Hartford.  

Proper grease disposal is important for a variety of reasons.  

“When fat, oil and grease gets cold it solidifies, which then turns into blockages inside of pipelines,” Egbert said. “When all these restaurants are linked up to main city sewer pipelines it causes massive lateral backups, and to remedy that the city has to spend a bunch of tax dollars, which in turn only increases local tax rates.”  

They use those tax dollars to section off roads, rip off pavement, cut out pipelines and remove the blockage and then patch it all up, Egbert said.  

Not only does the program hope to alleviate the blockage, but also lessen the financial burden on local citizens.  

“It becomes such an inconvenience and waste of tax dollars,” Egbert said. “Many areas of Hartford have lower median incomes, so increasing the tax dollars on the people who really can’t afford to have them cranked up any higher is just so detrimental.”  

Hartford was chosen specifically simply because of the personal connection with the MDC and Dr. Parnas, who knew there was a prior issue of illegal dumping in that area.  

According to Egbert, Dr. Parnas is very hands-on in the venture. Last year he hosted tours of his labs and performed test runs at various restaurants.  

Both Abraham and Egbert shared some of their favorite aspects of being involved within the program.  

“I would say that I really like how the majority of the work is very team based,” Abraham said. “I like being able to work with other people and bounce ideas back and forth because I was introduced to the program from a friend of mine.”  

She was interested in the research and has learned so much about FOG that she did not know prior to getting involved.  

Egbert enjoys the program because of the analytical aspect that revolves around data.  

“I love seeing and running real data, which we get a lot of opportunities to do,” she said. “Running regressions between the rates of non-compliance with different socioeconomic factors of neighborhoods, and looking for correlations to see if there is any sort of relationship between the rates of economic wealth or diversity of an area.”  

Mackenzie Egbert

“I love seeing and running real data, which we get a lot of opportunities to do,” she said. “Running regressions between the rates of non-compliance with different socioeconomic factors of neighborhoods, and looking for correlations to see if there is any sort of relationship between the rates of economic wealth or diversity of an area.”  Egbert finds it very interesting to work with real data and then make data-informed decisions which can impact public policy matters.  

Egbert and her team did find some correlation between various factors. There was no correlation between illegal dumping and economic wealth, however there was some correlation to do with diversity.  

“I ran the entire regression again, but with variables for neighborhood diversity and there was a strong statistical correlation, which is open to a lot of interpretation,” Egbert said. “To me it indicates that there are some racial barriers to entry for compliance, which is interesting from a policy end.” 

While some of the data includes school cafeterias and apartment complexes, their direct surveying only applies to restaurants.  

There’s several ways that FOG Management is increasing awareness surrounding their mission, including social media, free merchandise and more.  

“Right now we’re focusing mainly on social media because we’re not all on campus, however throughout the summer and as people start to come out of quarantine a little bit more we’re hoping to set up more campaigns on campus with students,” Egbert said. “We tend to also distribute some free merchandise to the restaurants as we survey them.”  

They created a new Instagram for the project which can be found @uconnfogmanagement_.  

“It’s a lot about creating awareness for these restaurants on what is FOG, why it’s detrimental to your establishment and why it’s bad for the environment,” Abraham said.  

This is the first fat, oil and grease based initiative that UConn Service Learning has done. Learn more 

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