Cassandra Mac graduated from the School of Sustainability Masters of Sustainable Solutions program in December 2015. She completed her degree as an intern with the Tempe Grease Cooperative (TGC) and is now a full time employee. The TGC is a special program managed under the Environmental Services Section of the City of Tempe that works as an intermediary between local restaurants and grease collection businesses to ensure proper grease device maintenance and grease disposal. If not properly managed, restaurants may discharge their fats, oils, and grease (FOG) in the city sewage system. However, the city sewage system is not equipped to handle this type of waste, so Cassandra and her team are helping restaurants dispose of fats, oils, and grease in an environmentally safe manner. Safe disposal of FOG protects sewer infrastructure from overflows and, since the inception of the TCG, no overflows have occurred from TGC members. The efforts ensure sustainable sewer infrastructure in Tempe, especially since there are approximately 1000 restaurants and other food service establishments, and 170,000 residents contributing to the sewer system.
Although the program is only two years old and facilitated mostly by ASU School of Sustainability interns, 1 in 6 restaurants in the City of Tempe are partnering with the TCG. This number is increasing as more local restaurants realize the benefits of this type of intermediary work. Cassandra has hopes for a “change in proper FOG disposal to ensure each vendor is doing their job properly, and each member of the Cooperative is serviced correctly and with care.” The TCG is the first program of its kind in the world, and has inspired places such as Fort Wayne, Indiana, San Antonio, Texas, and even Dublin, Ireland to adopt its method to work within their cities.
When asked about why restaurants would not want to be involved with the TGC, Cassandra said, “some companies struggle to implement change.” The TGC is aware of this barrier to their work and has been striving to ensure safe, open communication and understanding between their employees and local restaurants. Cassandra emphasizes that, ultimately, it is about the member wanting to participate in a new way of doing things.
There are many similarities between our society and these local restaurants. All people have fears, judgements, and insecurities preventing them from change. So how do we find a way to overcome these barriers? The answer may simply be to let ourselves be vulnerable to others. To be completely raw and open allows for a unique space of understanding and learning. If we can help companies move to a space of trust with Tempe Grease Cooperative, they might be more willing to join. The result may be more sustainable management of waste, which would create a healthier and more productive environment, enhancing human well-being and happiness.