Saint Petersburg, FL

Cast Iron, Coffee Grounds, and Conservation: St. Petersburg’s Infrastructure Water Plan Starts at Our Plumbing

Kathy LaFollett
Coffee on the beach, yes please.Photo byAdobe Express Pro

Today there’s about 228,500 adults over the age of 18 living in St Petersburg, FL. Statistically, two-thirds are coffee drinkers (If you believe the National Coffee Association). Which I do. They’ve been around since 1911. About 158,000 residents drank coffee this morning. Then poured the coffee grounds down the sink. Within a few hours of each other, outside of those third shifters out there. (Stay strong people!) That is a lot of sticky, chunky, absorbing mess that will find the nooks and crannies of old pipes to collect in. Which brings up the other thing. Water conservation includes the water we send back into the city’s waterworks. Water has a lifecycle in human consumption. It all matters. Particularly when fresh water is becoming a smaller resource, that’s harder to preserve, find, and deliver. I bring up coffee grounds for the conversation because it’s a familiar idea, a familiar experience, and explains how easy it is to ignore a big picture. And let me just say, big pictures are hard for me in the morning before coffee.

Coffee ground castoffs and other old pipe problems.

A house built before the mid-seventies has cast iron pipes. Good news, that's American-made cast iron. Bad news, those cast iron pipes are old and vulnerable after decades of pressures inside and out. But let’s give them their due. They’re fifty years or older, and they are tired. I’m in my fifties and I’m tired. Cast iron pipes are quieter than PVC and ABS, though. I’m quieter these days, too. Cast iron pipes have a 50–100-year lifespan. So do humans. But no one asks a 100-year-old human to carry what a 50-year-old human could carry. You see where this is going.

We still use cast iron today sometimes. But now PVC and ABS, exponentially better designed materials, are the go-to product for residential water and waste pipes. While newer, ABS drain lines can handle coffee grounds without issues, grounds can become a major problem in the older cast iron pipes down the line. Because there’s cast iron down the line somewhere. Cast iron is porous and prone to accumulation of anything that goes into the line.

The National Infrastructure Works underway includes replacing cast iron pipes. We’ve got a long way to go, and while we wait, we’ll need to take care of what we have. Coffee grounds settle in the drain line and cling to any existing grease buildup forming a layer that can cause a clog. Grease and food leftovers can clog the drain even if you rinse plates.

Garbage disposals are problematic, too. Their food slurry can accumulate and clog the main sewer lines. John Hammes patented that thing in 1935. When cast iron was the go-to pipe for wastewater and water delivery. That was some innovative kitchen gadgetry in its day. That was then. This is now.

Coffee grounds don’t break down in water. So, what do they do?

  • They compost very well. Adding a loamy draining texture to composted soil.
  • Adding coffee ground castoffs to your garden directly adds nitrogen and potassium to the soil while absorbing heavy metals.
  • It promotes earthworm activity, which benefits the soil’s drainage, structure, and nutrient availability. Earthworms like coffee grounds around.
  • Grounds can repel slugs, ants, and mosquitoes. The strong scent of coffee can mask the scent of plants, making them less attractive to these pests. Coffee Camouflage for you and your plants.
Things change. The sign is gone, but the city remains. Thriving, growing, changing for the better. If we want it to.Photo byAdobe Express Pro

The St. Petersburg, Florida, Perspective

The City of St. Pete’s Water Plan includes infrastructure updates and smart sewer strategies. It takes a big village to work together to keep the water clean, flowing, and conserved. It starts with little steps.

Avoid putting fats, oils, or grease down the drain and only flush waste and toilet paper down the toilet. ‘Flushable’ wipes do not break down well, causing sewer blockages. With our population density redefining the word dense, St. Petersburg’s Water Plan takes on an urgent meaning. Read the full Integrated Master Plan Regulatory Submittal form, here. You’ll see we are all involved. Download the NextDoor App to keep up to date with your neighborhood’s place inside the big infrastructure plan. Follow City of St. Petersburg to see where the Smoke Testing of Sanitary Sewer Systems is currently happening. April 28th Update Post (Good news! There’s federal money behind all this, not our bank accounts.)

The city’s water plan calls for preserving and upgrading infrastructure for a healthier environment. If we can’t get coffee grounds right, the heavy lifting of water preservation, conservation, and cost controls is doomed. So, let’s start here. No coffee grounds down the drain. Tomorrow morning, use those coffee grounds out in the garden. A healthy garden sustains healthy pollinators that sustain healthy foods, that sustain healthy wildlife and humans, that sustain a healthy environment that sustains healthy waterways. And that all starts with one little step multiplied by an entire city, equaling success.

Ask a runner if they start with a first step, or a first run. Ask them after coffee, though. They’re probably like me in the morning. Big picture thinking is hard first thing.

Water was always a precious resource. Seems we're just now coming to terms with that idea. Read Protecting Florida's Fragile Fisheries and Utility Bills, Flood Maps and Water Tiers in St Pete.

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Florida author, speaker, and wildlife/companion animal advocate writing about life in the Sunshine State from my cityscape, St. Petersburg.

St. Petersburg, FL

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