FOG waste (Fats, oils, and grease) is a project that uses multiple scales of interventions to promote responsible waste water management. Disposal of FOG waste via sinks can lead to sewer backups. Through a unique collaboration between the City’s Environmental Service Department (ESD), the Department of Transportation (DOT), and the Public Art Program (SJPA), the City of San Jose has provided an opportunity to address the issue of FOG waste through public art, designed to investigate the waste water system and the community, motivate responsible management by the community, and support the community’s relationship to this vital, but invisible, infrastructure.
FOG waste, often disposed of through kitchen sinks, is conveyed through the waste water system. Disposal of FOG waste via sinks can lead to sewer backups and overflows that can cause health hazards, damage homes and the environment, as well as increase city maintenance costs. This project called for an artwork that would address the issue of FOG waste, without specifying a particular venue for an artistic intervention. Merely, it was dependent on the artists’ process to find the most meaningful and impactful intervention that would ideally have measurable effects. The project was thus devised in such a manner that community meetings would allow potential canvases to unfold. Since the problem has multiple scales (backups can occur in individuals’ home, their streets, and damage the environment), there was no clear spot for artwork or interventions. Through the process, it became clear that it was important to address each of these scales specifically through interventions that could operate either individually or as a system.
FOG waste is an innovative collaboration between the city, artists, and the community. As social practice artists and environmental designers, our previous work has focused on creating greater connections between communities and the urban environments they inhabit. Addressing scale has been integral to that process. Our design process requires simultaneously considering the scale of the individual, and the city at large, to bringing community awareness of complex environmental issues. In collaborating with the San Jose to address residential FOG waste within the city’s wastewater infrastructure, our process required an understanding of both the social and physical infrastructure of the city on various scales. To this end, we developed a participatory exercise with ‘waste recipe cards.’ The community meetings became a chance for the neighborhoods to share the common wastes they encounter in their kitchens. This workshop-type process became a springboard for understanding the kitchen waste management practices and an opportunity to discuss the impact of those practices on neighborhoods, the city, and the environment. It also allowed us to understand better existing priorities, and what elements of the infrastructure system (from the scale of home, neighborhood, city, or the environment) were the most motivating factors towards encouraging best practices.
It is our belief that a single project alone could not successfully address the multiple scales contributing to the physical, environmental, and social conditions impacting San Jose’s waste water infrastructure. In response, our proposal takes a multi-pronged approach to achieving greater awareness. Each intervention addresses a different audience and scale: the individual, the community, the city, and the local ecosystem. This suite of multi-scalar projects draws better connections between the each scale of the city’s system, working strategically to incite community curiosity, to encourage their participation in best kitchen practices, and to become good environmental citizens.