Fats, oils and grease (FOGs) are still making it down our drains and into our sewers where they cool and coagulate, mixing with wet wipes and other solid matter to form fatbergs over time. Not only do these fatbergs make it much more likely for our drains to overflow, sending raw sewage straight into our waterways, but each fatberg also costs £100,000 for water companies to remove.
Fatbergs are a big problem. Luckily, there are many ideas and inventions currently at work attempting to stop them from popping up.
Besides the trusty and traditional grease trap, food businesses can now indulge in add-ons such as bio-dosers, which use chemical or bacterial mixtures to break down FOG in drains or in traps.
Meanwhile, water companies are spreading the word not only amongst food businesses but – fully aware that household FOG waste is a major contributor to the fatberg problem - amongst the general public too. As a result, we now all know not to flush anything except the 3Ps (pee, poo and paper), and we all know that pouring FOG down the plughole is never a good idea.
And many more initiatives have gone a step further - by making it easier for members of the public to properly dispose of their fats, oils and grease. Recently, we’ve seen councils across the country encourage people to store up their FOG in plastic bottles and put it out with their food waste on collection day.
But there may be another method of FOG waste collection which we’ve seen tried out in the last few years, and which may yet prove a powerful force in fighting fatbergs:
Back in 2015, Sainsbury’s teamed up with Scottish Water, Olecco and Zero Waste Scotland to figure out how to get the public recycling oil.
Together, they set up a trial-run of cooking-oil collection banks in the carparks of seven Scottish Sainsbury’s in Leven, Kirkcaldy, Linlithgow and Edinburgh. In one of the first attempts to introduce oil banks, customers were invited to deposit their household fat, oil and grease waste in plastic bottles and dump them into the big bins the next time they visited for their weekly shop. The oil was then sent off to be converted into biofuels.
Two years later, in 2017, Norfolk City and South Norfolk Councils teamed up with Anglian Water and Living Fuels to launch a similar initiative called Keep It Clean. Their trial-run saw an initial five cooking oil banks set up in supermarket car parks across the two councils’ jurisdictions which were then joined by six more. Again, customers were encouraged to collect up their FOG and dispose of it properly.
It Did Not Go To Plan
While the format was familiar – similar recycling banks for clothes and other waste are a common sight across the country – the users of the Norfolk oil banks didn’t quite catch the brief.
The Living Fuel workers tasked with emptying the oil banks began to find gas canisters and bits of broken glass in amongst the bottles of FOG. With the threat to health and safety evident for all to see, all eleven of the waste oil banks were removed, and the trial-run was abandoned.
It was a set-back. In fact, it was a set-back so severe that the idea of publicly accessible oil banks seems to have disappeared altogether. But, given the space of years it may be time to ask:
Why Did Oil Banks Not Work?
One answer may be promising for oil bank fans.
That is: they didn’t work because too few people knew what they were for. It was a lack of awareness which led to them being closed down.
Too few cared about FOG. Understandably: few have time to consider the implications of their FOG output or to wonder where the waste which goes down their drains eventually ends up.
That’s why the signs on the banks were not obeyed – and why foreign objects strayed into the wrong trash pile. The public were not ready for easily accessible fat, oil and grease disposal.
But, one day, will they be?
Could Oil Banks Return?
Oil banks may still be an idea worth pursuing.
In the long-term, if public awareness was the issue, they could make a return once more people know about the FOG problem – once recycling fats, oils and grease becomes as commonplace as recycling paper and plastic is now. While, as with most public recycling banks, misuse will remain inevitable, once more of the public are on-side, misuse will become less frequent.
In the meantime, the idea could still be handy for areas which are densely packed with small food businesses.
While fast food chains can easily handle the costs of having their FOG waste picked up by professionals on a regular basis, smaller food businesses can struggle to put together enough money on their own to make such regular pick-ups feasible.
Creating commercial cooking oil banks, accessible only to local businesses who are clued up and conscious of good grease management practices, could offer a solution. While many small food businesses already pool their FOG waste on an informal basis, pitching in together to have their fats, oils and grease picked up at the same time, commercial oil banks could formalise these local networks and make them easier to set up where they don’t already exist.
Oil banks could make grease management easier for the small food business owner. And making management easier is crucial if we’re going to find a solution to the FOG problem.
Providing accessible banks for small businesses struggling to make ends meet could just bring those teetering on the brink of not bothering with a grease trap onto the right side of the fight against fatbergs. And with them onside, spreading awareness amongst their customers and community, more of the public will get clued up, too.
Oil banks may not have worked in the recent past, but, working alongside the classic grease trap, Oil Banks Could Still Be The Future.