New Castle County announced the launch of its annual Great Schools, Clean Streams campaign, which enlists school communities to raise awareness of the dangers of pouring kitchen grease and oils down the drain and into the wastewater treatment system.

Through April 20, county residents can participate by pledging to dispose of used cooking grease properly by completing a pledge form at greatschoolscleanstreams.org. Each participant assigns their pledge to the public, charter or private school of their choice; the 16 schools that collect the most pledges will claim their share of $10,000 in cash awards to purchase classroom materials and to support campus projects.

“Our message to residents is simple,” County Executive Matthew Meyer said. “Pour leftover cooking grease in a can and throw the can in the trash. That reduces the environmental harm and cleanup costs from blockages in our county’s sewer system, and it lowers the risk of clogged pipes in homes and plumbing bills for residents. Create a cleaner environment by signing our Great Schools Clean Streams pledge today.”

New Castle County’s Department of Special Services maintains the state’s largest wastewater treatment system with more than 1,700 miles of sanitary sewer lines that serve 118,000 customers and takes in more than 50 millions of gallons each day. Cooking grease and oils poured down the drain build up in that system over time and are a leading cause of sewer blockages, backups and spills which harm the environment and create cleanup costs.

Through more effective monitoring, regular cleaning and public education county government has cut the number of backups and overflows by half. It is estimated that the collective change in behavior from the 8,500 New Castle County residents who signed the Great Schools Clean Streams pledge last year resulted in tens of thousands of fewer pounds of grease and oils being dumped down the drain — that makes a difference in environmental quality and saves taxpayers money.

This year’s winning schools will be announced immediately after the close of the Great Schools Clean Streams campaign, just in time for Earth Day, which is observed this year April 22.

Great Schools Clean Streams 2017 prizes are two first-place awards, $1,750 each; two second-place, $1,250 each; two third-place, $750 each; and 10 honorable mentions, $250 each.

For information, visit greatschoolscleanstreams.org.