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Monthly Archives: July 2019

  • Fatbergs – An Insight into the Modern World?


    Fatbergs Can Tell Us a Lot About Ourselves…

    Their very existence tells us how our growing population with its love of fatty fast food is putting Fast fooda strain on our Victorian sewers.

    Meanwhile, the hard-to-dispose-of FOGs and wet wipes that make up the bulk of a fatberg tell us about our love for convenience: we flush them down the drain because it’s easy, because it puts what we don’t know what to do with out of sight and out of mind.

    Tucked between those big baddies are our secrets, evidence of what we do behind closed doors as fatbergs swallow up everything from our old condoms to our syringes.

    Meanwhile, the chemical components of the bergs can give us a clue to understanding our collective consciousness: besides the caffeine and paracetamol that you might expect, there’s the cocaine and MDMA from our wild nights out, our weekend release at the end of a dull procession of nine to fives, and the even greater quantities of steroids, taken as part of our 21st century body image obsession.

    Fatbergs can tell us a lot about ourselves – we’ve only got to look at them in the right way.

    And We Have Been Looking

    For a while last year everyone was talking about them. Multiple headlines cropped up in national newspapers through late 2017 and early 2018 telling us all about these masses of solidified sewage.

    Fictional newspaper headline

    In early 2018, the Museum of London put on an exhibition, Fatberg!, which centred around chunks of the 250m Whitechapel sewer-blocker.

    A few months after that, Channel 4 followed the trend with a documentary, Fatberg Autopsy, in which parts of an even bigger fatberg were dissected for a mainstream TV audience.

    We heard all about it.

    But Did Anything Change?

    In short, very little: fatbergs are just as much a problem as before.

    Asking why that is might give us an even greater insight into the modern world.

    And this might be one reason:

    We all know that there’s a lot wrong with the world and we have all heard that our attention spans are shortening for some reason or other.

    The combination of the two means that a news story about fatbergs has to compete for attention with stories about hundreds, even thousands, of other issues on any given day.

    Newspaper headlines

    To compete, last year’s fatberg news stories, exhibitions and documentaries often resorted to scary and exciting descriptions of monsters, titanic tasks and battles against sinister forces in our sewers.

    Those words caught our attention and we may have talked about fatbergs for a little while afterwards, but our conversation didn’t end with us all solving the problem together.

    The best way to tackle fatbergs is for businesses and individuals to make small adjustments to the way they work and live. Basically: put grease traps in your drains and only ever flush the 3Ps (pee, poo and toilet paper). Individual acts add up to make a huge difference.

    But, faced with an apparently monstrous fatberg epidemic of unimaginable proportions, these small-scale responses sound pretty feeble. Nobody on the Titanic saw the iceberg right ahead and reached for their box of matches.

    It’s no wonder that few actually changed their ways. 

    Now We Need to Change How We Talk About Fatbergs

    As we talk about them, it is tempting to focus on the catastrophic end result and make people listen up that way, but we’ve got to face up to the much harder task of making a slowly moving process sound interesting and attention grabbing.

    Goslyn GOS40 GRU

    We’ve got to recognise that the big scary fatberg is the end product of a very slow evolution with a huge number of steps: a cup of cooking oil poured down the sink meets a wet wipe in the sewers and, sometime after that, the pair meet more fat, more wet wipes, more condoms and sanitary pads, until, over months or even years, the whole lot snowballs into an immense immovable blockage.

    If we put the emphasis on the gradual build-up of the bergs, we might all be better able to see how our fatberg problem can be overcome in the same way that fatbergs form, through a huge number of little steps of our own.

    We might recognise that one cup of oil saved from the drain is one cup the fatberg will never gain, and learn to love our grease traps.

  • Is the Foodservice Industry Finally Taking FOG Seriously?


    From fatbergs weighing 130 tonnes to recurrent flooding caused by blockages, Britain’s sewers are under siege. If we continue to flush fat, oil and grease (FOG) and non-biodegradable items into the sewers, the situation will only get worse.

    Water UK estimates there are more than 300,000 FOG-related sewer blockages in Britain each year, costing the taxpayer around £100 million to clear. Blockages lead to sewer flooding, which can cause untreated sewage to run into homes, gardens, and in the worst-case scenario, contaminate the water supply.

    While the correct disposal of FOGs has long been recognised as a problem by wastewater companies, the public remained largely oblivious to their role in clogging up the sewers. However, viral stories such as the infamous Whitechapel fatberg—a piece of which remains on the display at the Museum of London—have captured the public’s imagination and lead to the issue receiving wider media attention.

    water droplet with text 'clean, water, fresh'

    A Commercial Issue

    Wastewater from commercial kitchens contains a higher concentration and volume of FOG than domestic kitchens. But fatbergs are not created by FOGs alone. They are formed by FOGs combining with domestic household waste such as wet wipes to form giant calcified masses. Despite this, it is the foodservice industry which the water companies hold more accountable for sewage blockages.

    Recently in Nottingham, a restaurant was prosecuted and ordered to pay a total fine of £8,419 for flooding in the local area, caused in part by FOG discharge. A representative from Severn Trent Water told reporters that this case was “totally avoidable” and that “simply installing a suitable grease trap and making sure it’s maintained could have prevented the situation”.

    Every foodservice outlet in the country has a legal obligation to manage its “effluent content” under the Water Industry Act 1991. With more exposure in the media, foodservice outlets are being put under increasing pressure to manage their waste effectively as highlighted in the WRAP Envirowise Guide. Yet it is estimated that only 30% of Britain’s 400,000 commercial kitchens have some sort of FOG mitigation system in place.

    Britain’s largely Victorian sewer network will not be able to cope with increasing urbanisation, higher concentrations of food outlets, and climate change if the current rate of blockages remains.

    It is highly unlikely that it will ever be economically or practically viable for the government to insist on the installation of domestic grease traps. Therefore, rightly or wrongly commercial businesses will continue to bear the financial brunt of tackling the issue.

    The Simple Solution...Install a Grease Trap

    In an ideal world, Britain’s sewage problem would be solved if all commercial kitchens installed a grease trap. Grease traps stop FOGs at source and are the most cost-effective measure to ensure that commercial kitchens are adhering to legislation.

    The issue is that approximately half of the 30% of commercial kitchens with a FOG mitigationStainless steel grease trap system has not installed them correctly. This is because it is not always clear to restaurants how to correctly size and maintain their grease traps, in accordance with regulations. If your business is looking to install a grease trap the easiest way to make sure you get exactly what you need by requesting a free site survey. While water companies can enforce compliance, they are not obliged to offer advice on what equipment to use and how to use it. Further education, not accusations, is essential.

    In that regard, a campaign run by Scottish Water in Fife could set an industry standard. They worked with environmental inspectors from Environmental Compliance and Services (ECAS) to visit 172 foodservice businesses to educate them on how to effectively install grease traps. As a result, 119 new or larger grease traps were installed, preventing 140 tonnes of FOG entering the sewage system each year.

    While there is evidently a long way to go, the very fact that the industry is beginning to engage in a discussion about the best ways to manage FOG is a positive step towards change in commercial kitchens.


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