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fatberg

  • 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.

  • Anatomy of a Fatberg

     

    Ever thought about where that residual juice, fat, oil and grease from cooking equipment, trays and plates goes once it’s disappeared down your sink? Despite what many people think, it doesn’t just wash cleanly down the pipes to a treatment centre.

    Foundations of a Fatberg

    Once cooled your fats, oils, grease (also referred to as FOG) and juices solidify and congeal in pipe work. This, on its own, wouldn’t exactly be ideal but when combined with flushed items (which shouldn’t actually be flushed) such as wet wipes, sanitary products, contraceptives and cotton buds etc. a complex fusion is created that can develop into gargantuan proportions. What might begin as a minor nuisance can mature into a colossal blockage, costing time and money to remedy.

    A fatberg is formed.

    Are There Any Other Contributing Factors?

    Although the emphasis is placed on FOG mixed with solid matter, there are other elements that may contribute to the problem. Household items such as soap and essential oils etc. can all add to the problem – even claimed that the type of loo paper used can play a part.

    The general advice is to only flush the Three ‘P’s’ – pee, poo and paper, but even that may be in doubt if some reports are to be believed. Some are of the opinion that areas that pay a bit more for plush toilet paper are at greater risk of blockages; the thicker, quilted paper being harder to break down (although this is not evidenced).

    What Are the Effects of Fatbergs?

    When the sewer system is blocked, any overflow that can’t continue through the pipes creates pressure, potentially leading to blocked toilets and drains and the possible rupturing of ageing pipe systems. Any excess effluent that hasn’t got anywhere to go is flushing out into public waterways, the waste littering coastlines. This isn’t just an environmental hazard but poses a threat to wildlife.

    Where Do They Form?

    Victorian sewer

    Anywhere. Although mainly a product of highly populated areas, fatbergs have cropped up in less dense regions. Notably the most recent discovery was in Sidmouth; a relatively quiet seaside town.

    The problem isn’t just with what’s being flushed down toilets and sinks but also the substandard UK sewer system. First installed in the Victorian era when the population was considerably less and the day to day lives of society didn’t produce nearly as much waste, they just weren’t designed to cope with the demands of the modern world. The original structures in London were equipped to deal with the then populous of circa 4 million however have never been updated or modernised, so it’s not surprising that it can’t cope with the ever-multiplying population of today that’s approaching 9 million.

    Combatting Fatbergs

    Highlighting Bad Habits

    Although commercial foodservice businesses are highlighted by water companies as major contributors, being investigated and fined where an offence has occurred, blame shouldn’t only be restricted to your local restaurant or take-away.

    Bad habits are just as prevalent in the domestic arena. It has been reported that 4 in 10 residential premises within the Thames Water jurisdiction still pour oils, fats and grease down the sink, even though fatbergs and the known sources are more publicised than ever.

    People may think their little contribution won’t make a difference to the situation, but when everyone thinks the same, that’s when it turns into a massive issue.

    Reactive Response

    People imagine fatberg formations to be soft, squishy masses but surprisingly they are more like concrete. When a blockage is located, it requires high power water jets, pickaxes, shovels, drills and a whole lot of elbow grease to clear the way through the solid structure.

    A plan of action is formulated, teams are dispatched and the blockage is removed, although the whole process can take many weeks and even months.

    According to Water UK, there are approximately 300,000 blockages in UK sewers every year. That is estimated to cost water companies (and indirectly, the tax payer) up to £100 million to remedy.

    Rather than just react to the problem, a long term solution needs to be based around prevention rather than cure.

    Proactive Solution

    Educating domestic and commercial premises is essential.

    In the domestic sphere, flushing of the unflushables has been well publicised, with environmental consequences being made clear. Every perpetrating household can’t be brought to justice and so part of the solution has to rely heavily on common sense and the acceptance of responsibility by the public.

    In an attempt to help combat the fatberg phenomenon and the contribution of solids to theStainless steel passive grease trap problem, a new standard has been announced regarding ‘flushable’ wet wipes. Many so called ‘flushable’ items have been proven to be anything but, however this new testing aims to bring clarification to what can and can’t go down the toilet. The hotly anticipated ‘fine to flush’ logo will be awarded only to products that pass more rigorous testing. This comes off the back of Water UK’s information that non-flushable items are thought to contribute to almost 93% of sewer obstructions.

    Cooking juices and FOG ending up down the sink can be moderated and dramatically lessened with good grease management protocol. All plates and cooking utensils should be scrapped of waste food and wiped free of any residual juices before being rinsed. Any excess that does find its way into the drain can be caught with the simple installation of an appropriate grease trap.

    While presently grease traps aren’t required in domestic premises, they are strongly recommended and advised in commercial catering operations. Although other countries enforce strict rules for grease trap compliance, in the UK they are still only a recommendation … at the moment. It is soon believed that they will become a mandatory fitting in new and existing commercial properties.

    Fatbergs are increasingly posing a real threat to communities, the environment and wildlife. By educating the public and businesses and giving a greater understanding of what exactly fatbergs are and how they can be prevented, this is one problem that we can all combat together.

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