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Monthly Archives: November 2019

  • Fighting Against the Fatbergs

     

    Most people know about the Fatberg problem. Having hit the front pages and featured in dedicated museum exhibitions, Fatbergs have become familiar to a wide audience — even if the issue isn’t quite dinner table conversation across the nation. Many people understand that the problem stems from our bad habit of letting fats, oils and grease (FOGs) slip down our drains into our sewers, where they solidify and form hard-to-remove Fatbergs over time.

    With the growth in awareness, there’s also been a growth in problem-solving: we are approaching the solution bit by bit, drain by drain.

    And it’s all down to teamwork, as water companies, environmental boards and individual food businesses work together across the UK.

    How exactly are they doing it?

    It all comes down to:

    Education Education Education

    Water companies and environmental boards are the biggest powers spreading the word about the issue at hand.

    Taking Their Teachings Direct to the Food Businesses

    Letter cubes spelling 'teach' in front of books

    Water companies are using their influence and standing as an authority on the subject to introduce a number of initiatives which intend to recommend kitchen procedures and train staff to prevent FOGs from slipping down the drains.

    Back in 2018, Scottish Water started work in partnership with Environmental Compliance and Services (ECAS) to spread the word in St Andrews. ECAS officers visited restaurants, pubs, hotels, fast food joints, cafés, schools and canteens to spread the good news: to persuade the 8 in 10 food establishments without adequate grease management systems that they can be part of the solution, keeping fats and grease out of the sewers and sending their waste to be turned into biofuels instead.

    This year, in Shaftesbury, where over 850,000 litres of FOGs are removed from the drains every twelve months, ECAS and Wessex Water are leading the Stop the Block initiative, visiting businesses and advising staff on methods to prevent pollution: from scraping food waste into the bin instead of into the sink and using a strainer in their drains, to installing a quality grease trap and having it professionally pumped on a regular basis.

    While these initiatives are certainly facing up to obstacles, including the rapid turnover of workers within the food industry — meaning that trained workers frequently leave to be replaced by new employees who are not aware of how to safely dispose of FOG waste — they are sure signs of progress and reasons to be hopeful.

    Another reason to have some hope?

    Spreading the Word to the Next Generation

    Down in Devon, on World Environment Day earlier this year, prospective students at South Devon University Technical College were herded into a laboratory and tasked with coming up with a solution to the Fatberg problem. The prize? A VIP experience with the Environment Agency.

    Targeting these environmental scientists and food business owners of the future, the project saw a spreading of awareness and understanding — inspiring a set of students by presenting them with a problem of the times and encouraging them to give the solution their best shot.

    And, while this inspiration is being sparked, elsewhere

    Silhouette of man with megaphone

    Food Businesses Are Spreading the Word Amongst Themselves  

    Certain heroic enterprises are taking the lead against the Fatberg problem - doing what they can, on their own, to tackle FOGs.

    Besides the leaps taken by chains such as Holland & Barrett, who stopped selling wet wipes in May after awareness spread that those wipes often end up binding fatbergs together, there are the contributions of individual food outlets.

    One of these leaders is the Cromars chippie in St Andrews. 35 years ago, the landlord who still owns the building installed the first grease trap, in a pioneering move. His decision to invest in quality grease management was passed down over the years: out of 130 food businesses in St Andrews visited as part of the Fat Free Sewers initiative mentioned above, only 6 had grease traps and only Cromars had a grease trap which was the right size.

    With this reminder that there has been, for decades, at least some awareness of the FOG problem, the current push for wider understanding of the fatbergs which keep clogging our sewers seems to have a much more feasible goal: the issue isn’t brand new — we just have to bring the same old conversation into the spotlight.

    Silhouettes of people with coloured speech bubbles

    In the fight against fatbergs, it’s time for us all to communicate with each other and …

    Take the Lead

    Though the battle may seem daunting, by pulling together we are getting a huge amount done, and we are sure to accomplish much more in the years to come. If you haven’t already, invest in a quality automatic grease trap, tell everyone you know, and put the FOG issue firmly on the map.

  • Would You Pay £2600 to Save £8k?

     

    Grease traps can seem pricey. And that price-tag can push some into buying cheaper, less-durable traps or even opting to take the risk and not have one at all.

    But choosing to cheap-out or putting off installing a GRU entirely is a bad idea for any food business.

    Here’s why being cautious about FOG production makes good financial sense.

    First, the basics:

    The FOG problem

    Fats, oils and grease (FOGs) left over on plates and utensils is washed down our drains as we wash up. Those FOGs find their way into the sewers where they solidify and, over time, form fatbergs.

    Dirty plate with knife and fork

    When those fatbergs are discovered by water company workers, an investigation begins which traces the responsibility for the bergs to the doors of local food businesses.

    After being educated by the inspectors and given a fair number of warnings, if those food businesses fail to change they will eventually face:

    Fines From The Water Companies

    These fines can be hefty.

    While the £420,000 fine handed out to Hypergoods Ltd. by Thames Water in September was particularly huge, even the more common financial penalties for poor grease management can cripple food businesses.

    Severn Trent Water is currently highly productive in their grease-related prosecutions, with a trio of court wins.

    Back in 2016, Severn Trent handed out a £5,495 fine to a restaurant in Wolverhampton for poor grease management. Severn Trent followed this up with a court win last year which saw SCE Catering Ltd. ordered to pay £9,226 for poor FOG practice and handed out yet another fine this year in a Nottingham Magistrates’ Court case which saw a third restaurant fined £8,419 for responding inadequately to the water company’s advice on preventing the formation of fatbergs.Roll of bank notes in red tie

    These fines have all been for contravening The UK Water Industry Act of 1991, an act which also saw a nearly £16,000 fine handed out to a Cambridgeshire Chinese restaurant in 2006, the year before a Wiltshire pub, an Indian Restaurant in Stevenage, and a school in Gloucestershire were fined £34,881, £15,000 and £7,616 respectively in 2007. The Act was also enforced to fine an Essex Chinese restaurant £9,660 in 2009 and to hand out another fine of £12,560 to a fast food joint in London in 2010.

    The point is that there is plenty of proof that water companies are adept at putting The UK Water Industry Act of 1991 to use in prosecuting food businesses who do not meet their standards – and those water companies have recently been putting that Act to work to ensure that all restaurants in their jurisdictions are on the right side of the fight against the FOG problem.

    If you want to avoid facing heavy financial penalties, the solution is simple: get on the right side of the fight.

    That’s why:

    A Good Grease Trap Will Save You Money In The Long Run

    Pink piggy bank behind three piles of coins

    A premium, long-lasting GRU will ensure that your business is never deemed responsible for any FOGs leaking into a sewer near you.

    You can’t get this kind of assurance from cheaper, less reliable traps and you certainly can’t go without and hope for the best – if the water company inspector comes knocking, they won’t be impressed if you can’t prove to them that you are doing all you can to help resolve the FOG problem.

    While quality comes with a bumped-up price-tag, that price is worth paying. 

    What Does A Premium GRU Look Like?

    Instead of the flimsy plastic which holds cheaper models together (and often needs replacing), premium GRU’s are fitted out with durable stainless steel.

    That’s true of the GreaseMaster GM50 automatic grease trap.

    GreaseMaster GM50 Automatic Grease Recovery Unit GreaseMaster GM50 Automatic Grease Recovery Unit

    Coming in at £2,600 including VAT, the GreaseMaster GM50 doesn’t just meet industry standards for grease management but exceeds them.

    With a 10-year warranty, it’s built to last and, functioning automatically, it’s built to ensure that, apart from giving its solid filter and FOG collection compartment a regular clean, you can keep working safe in the knowledge that your grease trap is doing what it does best while you aren’t looking.

    Another bonus: with an automatic trap like the Grease Master GM50, you won’t just be avoiding potential fines, you’ll be making real savings of £2-4,000 a year – the amount you would have to pay to professionally pump a passive trap every month or two.

    Save yourself from a hefty fine, and save the planet, in style. Invest in a quality grease trap, tailored to your needs, today.

  • Do You Know Your Grease Trap from Your Grease Interceptor?

     

    Whether you’re opening a new restaurant, or just revamping your current one, you’re going to need to install some form of FOG mitigation system. FOGs—or fats, oil and grease—are natural by-products produced during cooking. But if they’re washed down the sink they can congeal and form monster fatbergs which can block whole sewer networks.

    Because of the devastating environmental impact, this can cause, not to mention the extreme expense of simply clearing the blockage and repairing the damage, water companies can fine businesses who haven’t taken the necessary precautions to stop FOG being flushed down their drains.

    Grease Trap or Grease Interceptor – Do You Know the Difference?

    Fortunately, grease management solutions are readily available. You’ve probably already heard of grease traps and grease interceptors, but what’s the difference, how do they work, and which is right for your business?

    Grease traps, either passive stainless steel grease traps or automatic grease traps (or GRU's), are often the first-choice FOG management solution for most kitchen operators. They’ve been around since the 1880s and in principle, the technology hasn’t changed much since then. Basically, a grease trap is a receptacle which wastewater flows through before entering the drainage system. It is designed to “trap” the FOG from the wastewater, allowing only clear water to escape.

    They work on the basis that FOG is 10 to 15% less dense than water and that the two can’t mix. When wastewater enters the trap its flow rate is reduced so that it can cool and separate into three distinct layers. The FOG rises to the top because it’s the least dense and it’s trapped using a series of baffles. Food debris is the densest layer, so it settles at the bottom of the tank, allowing the now clear wastewater to escape through an outlet.

    Grease interceptors work in largely the same way, which is why, frustratingly, the two terms are often used interchangeably. But there are significant differences between the two.Stainless steel tap with water flow

    Flow Rate

    The main difference between a grease trap and a grease interceptor is the flow rate of wastewater they can handle. Grease traps work best with a lower volume of flow—ideally less than 50 gallons per minute. Generally, this covers most foodservice businesses.

    But large-scale establishments with a much higher volume of flow will need to install a grease interceptor. They are designed to operate in high-pressure water environments and can handle extensive grease flows.Large stainless steel grease interceptor and small stainless steel grease trap

    Size

    Grease traps are normally the size of a bread box or a mini-fridge. Although sizing can vary quite dramatically, from anywhere between 10 gallons to 500 gallons. They can be installed inside the kitchen, usually beneath the sink.

    Grease interceptors, with their larger holding capacity, are much larger and typically have a holding capacity of over 500 gallons. Due to their size, they can’t be neatly fitted under the kitchen sink and are instead often installed outside an establishment underground. They work best if they are located near the fixture they serve. However, they can often give off a bad smell so they should be placed far away from any areas that customers frequent.Cleaning in progress sign

    Maintenance

    Grease traps require cleaning more frequently than grease interceptors. That’s because they tend to be smaller sized units which get filled up much more quickly. Ideally, grease traps should be cleaned either monthly by a specialist or daily by your employees.

    As the capacity of grease interceptors is greater, they can gather a larger amount of FOG over a longer period of time. Therefore, they need cleaning less often. Good practice dictates that grease interceptors should be emptied and cleaned at least once every three months. But while grease traps can be cleaned by hand, grease interceptors must be serviced by specialists. Technicians use a large hose to pumps the FOG from the interceptor into a truck equipped with a holding tank.

    Quarter full tank gauge

    The 1/4 Rule

    Although this is generally a good rule of thumb for any cleaning schedule, for more accurate measure businesses that have a grease trap or grease interceptor should use the ¼ rule. The ¼ rule is an internationally recognised standard which provides a good estimate on when to clean on out the grease trap or interceptor.

    It states that once ¼ of the trap has been filled with FOG it should be pumped out. This rule applies regardless of whether a month or three months have passed. That’s because as soon as that much FOG has been trapped, the device no longer operates as effectively and there is an increased risk of blockages and overflows. If over time you notice that your trap or interceptor regularly reaches that ¼ mark in a couple of weeks, consider sizing up.

    It’s also important to note that the frequency of required cleaning can vary depending on the amount of grease produced in the kitchen. For instance, fast-food restaurants produce much more FOG than a predominantly vegetarian restaurant and will, therefore, have to clean their equipment more regularly.

    Whatever your business needs, grease trap or grease interceptor, it’s vital to invest in the right grease management solution. Choosing the perfect fatberg-busting box can dramatically reduce the environmental impact that your wastewater can potentially have on public drainage systems and public watercourses in general.

  • Not All Publicity is Good Publicity

     

    Most businesses have always believed in the old adage that there's no such thing as bad publicity. The trick has always been to generate enough publicity—regardless of whether it’s bad or good. And in many cases, it works. Recent research has shown that negative stories attract 172% more news coverage and 178% more social shares than positive stories.

    But the same doesn’t hold true in the foodservice industry. There’s no way of spinning a headline about someone getting food poisoning in your restaurant!   Businesses’ reputations can be irreversibly damaged when it’s the brand’s integrity that is the source of negative publicity.

    The Impact of Fatbergs and Fines

    And with so-called fatbergs becoming a more widely recognised problem, and customers generally being more environmentally aware, it’s not just your food that you should be worried about getting negative reviews. Earlier this year a Nottingham restaurant hit the news after being fined £8,419 for blocking the local sewers with fat, oil and grease (FOG).

    Another restaurant in Shrewsbury was ordered to pay over £9,000 after it put FOG down the drain, causing the sewers to overflow and pollute a nearby watercourse.

    A representative from the water company described both situations as “totally avoidable, and in this case, simply installing a suitable grease trap and making sure it’s maintained could have prevented the situation”.

    Pizza boxes, top one with lid open showing pepperoni pizza

    When FOGs (natural by-products produced during cooking) are suspended in the water they congeal and harden as they cool. By disposing of FOG down the sink or drain, businesses not only face the risk of a fine but also potentially irreversible reputational damage.

    There are approximately 200,000 sewer blockages in the UK every year, of which 75% are caused by FOG. Restaurants, particularly fast-food restaurants, are bearing most of the blame. Research by Thames Water found that if you live with 50 metres of a fast-food place, your chances of being flooded with raw sewage are eight times higher.

    Restaurants who have been fined for blocking the sewers, or even those that are just in the general area of a recently discovered fatberg, are perceived as wasteful, lazy and environmentally abusive.

    What Matters to Potential Customers?

    Recent research has shown that two-thirds of restaurant customers are less likely to choose to eat at restaurants with a poor environmental record. It has also been shown that customers form their opinions on a restaurant’s environmental record predominantly from news sources and social media.

    So, even if a business has improved its environmental record since that last fine, customer perception of that business will already have been formed from the negative things they’ve seen online. They’re unlikely to recognise improved green practices simply because it’s less likely to garner media attention. In other words, the damage will already have been done.

    Happy, neutral and sad face with ticked box next to sad face

    Despite this, it’s estimated that only 20% of the 400,000 commercial kitchens in the UK have any sort of FOG management system in place. Largely this is due to a lack of awareness and because current building regulations don’t mandate the use of a FOG mitigation system. It’s still a commonly held misconception that water companies will pay to repair the blocked sewers themselves!

    But with increased media awareness about how fatbergs form, we are seeing water companies coming down much harder on sites that don’t have effective grease management systems in place. And while there is no law stating explicitly that foodservice establishments need to fit a grease management system, there is legislation in place making them responsible if a sewer is blocked due to discharge from their establishment.

    Businesses responsible for discharging FOG into the sewer system can easily be tracked down, and as well as fines and negative media coverage, they could also face substantial charges for cleaning and repairing the environmental damage. In the water companies’ opinion, there’s simply no excuse for discharging FOG anymore.

    It’s the type of thing which could linger over your businesses forever. You spend years and years trying to reverse the reputational damage or hire a specialist PR firm, but the easiest and most cost-effective solution is to not let it become a problem in the first place.

    Automatic grease traps are the ideal solution for filtering FOG from your business’ wastewater before it can enter the sewer system—ensuring your reputation remains spotless.

  • Fatbergs and Climate Change

     

    Our societies are currently facing a huge number of problems and our modern way of life is responsible for at least two of them: from the huge existential climate crisis to the relatively obscure fatberg problem plaguing our cities. It can be difficult to see the links between these two, but they are there: let’s take a closer look…

    First up, the basics:

    What’s a Fatberg and What’s Climate Change?

    A fatberg is a solid mass of congealed fats, oils and grease (FOGs) which were once used in cooking. When those FOGs are poured down our drains, one way or another, they cool and combine in our sewers, building up gradually over time into a concrete-like lump which, eventually, blocks the sewer. Fatbergs often catch many other nasties floating past them, from used wet wipes (which help bind the fatbergs together) to the human waste which makes for the fatbergs’ toxic stench. Historically occurring mainly in heavily populated areas, fatbergs have now been found in quieter locations showing the problem is only getting worse.

    Climate change, meanwhile, is a much more familiar issue, happening on a global scale. While the Earth’s climates have changed many times historically, swinging in and out of Ice Ages, what people usually mean when they talk about climate change at the moment is Anthropogenic, human-caused climate change. The industries which prop our society up, from agriculture to fossil fuels, emit greenhouse gases, the most common being carbon dioxide and methane, which build up in our atmosphere. Floating around up there, they allow infrared radiation from the sun to fall onto the Earth’s surface but the greenhouse gases don’t let it leave: the radiation reflects off of the Earth’s surface only to be sent back down once it hits this layer of greenhouse gases. So: the surface of the Earth gets a double heating, and temperatures go up: the globe warms.Sun behind a city landscape

    Where’s the Link Between the Two?

    As the climate crisis deepens, will the fatberg problem only get worse?

    Global warming disturbs weather systems, making weather more erratic: extreme weather events become more and more common until extreme weather becomes the new normal.

    In the UK, one of the biggest impacts of climate change will be increased rainfall and increased risk of flooding: the Committee on Climate Change predicts that, in the next 100 years, the cost of flood damage will more than double, whatever happens, while 1 million more homes will come to be at risk of regular flooding.

    If our sewers continue to be clogged by fatbergs, they’ll be less able to cope with the increase in rainfall: we’ll see more floods and we’ll see more raw sewage directed straight into our waterways, or even, in the worst-case scenario, back up our drains and into our homes. As the climate changes, the largely-invisible fatberg problem will become ever more noticeable.

    It can be trickier to see how the fatberg problem can make climate change worse.

    While those decomposing blocks of FOGs and human waste do emit their share of the greenhouse gas methane, they don’t have much of a direct responsibility for climate change.

    The fatberg problem does, however, contribute to climate change indirectly. In particular: Fatbergs Waste Resources

    There are the cleaning chemicals we use to unblock drains clogged by FOGs: those cleaning chemicals, which we wouldn’t have to use otherwise, are the end product of a long manufacturing process which itself emits a huge amount of CO2.

    Then there’s the energy and resources needed to remove fatbergs: the energy and water for the high-powered jet hoses and the electricity for the lighting which water company workers need to get the job done. Fatberg removal consumes electricity which, more often than not, comes from the burning of fossil fuels, which, again, emits greenhouse gases.

    And then there’s the money which water companies have to spend on removing and treating fatbergs which they could instead have spent on environmental initiatives. If our water companies weren’t so preoccupied fighting these monsters in our sewers, for instance, they might be doing, even more, to make their water treatment facilities more efficient or to foster the wildlife which forms ecosystems in, on and around our waterways.Power station chimneys with smoke

    The Impact of Fatbergs on the Environment Can Be Reduced

    Projects such as the one run by Thames Water and Argent Energy promise to transform fatbergs into biofuel, making up for some of the fuel burnt while extracting the bergs from our sewers.

    It’s still crystal clear however that it would be much better for the environment if there wasn’t a fatberg problem in the first place.

    If FOGs didn’t get into our sewers and become fatbergs, we wouldn’t have to use all of that energy and create all of those unnecessary emissions, and we definitely wouldn’t have to worry about raw sewage bubbling out of our toilets every time there’s a rainstorm.

    Invest in a good quality stainless steel grease trap or automatic grease trap (or Grease Recovery Unit) and stop those FOGs in their tracks: you might just save the world.

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