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The Grease Co-Op Model (Tempe)

If you've met David McNeil or attended one of his presentations then you know how passionate he is about his city's FOG program. David is the Environmental Services Manager for the City of Tempe, Arizona and he is an evangelist for the Tempe Grease Cooperative (TGC). His passion for the program and its success might just be enough to make you a believer in the concept as well.

If David is an evangelist then Cassandra Mac would be a disciple. She recently accepted a full time position as a Management Assistant with the City of Tempe's Environmental Services Section and is now the TGC Program Administrator. Before accepting this new job though, Cassandra was "boots on the ground" preaching the gospel and benefits of the TGC door to door to local restaurant owners as an intern.

In April 2016 I got the chance to spend some time with David and Cassandra and the rest of the FOG pretreatment team while attending a WEF FOG Workshop in Tempe. They graciously granted me permission to share what I learned here.

In 2009 the City of Tempe used federal block grant funding for energy efficiency/generation to conduct a feasibility study on using FOG from community restaurants as energy feedstock. In order to secure this resource the municipality realized that it needed to have control over the source. The most significant challenge the jurisdiction had to overcome was the disconnect between the food service establishment (FSE) that was subject to regulation under the FOG program and the third party pumping contractor which was not. David clarified, “The feedstock security goal prompted the city to take a closer look at program models that could both create accountability for the pumpers and secure city ownership of FOG.”

While a Preferred Pumper Program can begin to address the accountability issue, Tempe conceptualized a different approach that would also secure FOG ownership. What if the jurisdiction used its purchasing power to contract with a pumper contractor to provide maintenance and inspection services at reduced prices and the savings were passed directly on to community restaurants? The contract could establish the municipality’s ownership over the FOG waste, but could also establish cleaning and inspection requirements that would satisfy the jurisdictions FOG program. The discounted pricing would be an incentive for community restaurants to voluntarily join the program, but with control over the service provided the jurisdiction could also create an additional incentive for FSEs by guaranteeing grease interceptor maintenance compliance.

According to David, “The Tempe Grease Cooperative is the first program in which a regulatory sewer authority brokers both pricing and service quality on behalf of regulated restaurants that voluntarily enroll in the program. Through partnership, the co-op achieves group service discounts for participating restaurants, creates more sustainable sewer infrastructure, and captures renewable energy feedstock.”

Why would a pumper contractor want to enter into such a contract? How about guaranteed customers and a sales force working on behalf of the pumper to sell their services while adding new customers for them every month. How about guaranteed payment for services rendered because the pumper is paid by the municipality instead of the FSE, eliminating the risk of non-payment.

Why would an FSE want to join the TGC? How about guaranteed compliance with the jurisdiction regarding proper grease interceptor maintenance and a discount on the service being provided by the third party vendor. The program is free to enroll in and voluntary for the FSE, which means they can drop out at any time without penalty.

I would call that a win/win/win scenario. I love a proposition in which there are no losers.

I know that sounds great and all, but who has time to implement such a program and get all these FSEs on board? One word; Interns.

One of the key components to the TGCs success is that the “boots on the ground” signing up the FSEs are the interns that work for the department. David calls them his “Grease Ambassadors”. David says that, “What works for us are finding interns that are friendly and good with people, passionate, and think about these types of problems in a holistic way (like sustainability students).”

Cassandra, who came out of the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University added, “We would recommend that an internship program be developed by using the resources at a nearby university/college – all of which have some type of Career Service Center or Advisor of some sort.”

No program is perfect and the TGC has its limitations as well. For example, regarding signing up restaurants Cassandra said, “One of the biggest difficulties is finding the time to meet with owners that are extremely busy running their restaurant. It can be difficult to find a time to meet and explain the program to them, and even more difficult to continuously follow up with them to get them to enroll.” Beyond the time it takes to meet with owners, Cassandra said some owners that have experience with being regulated don’t seem to trust the municipality and resist the idea of a partnership.

David confessed that another challenge with the program is that it doesn’t cross jurisdictional boundaries. Cassandra added, “Recruiting chain restaurants is extremely difficult. Most national chains have one vendor for all of their stores, and do not want to deviate one or two that are located in Tempe. Even if a chain has the option to deviate, they are usually locked into a one or two year contract.”

The TGC has been up and operating now for over two years and has won multiple awards including:

  • 2014, Arizona Forward Environmental Excellence Award within the Livable Communities category

  • 2015, Copper Level recognition, Arizona Department of Environmental Stewardship Program

  • 2016, J. Robert Havlick Award for Innovation in Local Government, Alliance for Innovation

David and Cassandra’ excitement for the successful development of the TGC is tangible and infectious. If you want to know more about the program they welcome your inquiries. Their contact information follows:

David McNeil

Environmental services Manager City of Tempe 480-350-2844 direct

Cassandra Mac Managerial Assistant TGC Program Administrator (480) 350-2847 direct 

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