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fatbergs

  • Rethinking the Usual Suspects

     

    Fatbergs seem to be forming everywhere. Across the country, fats, oils and grease (FOG) are slipping and sliding down drains and into our sewers where they cool and solidify into huge sewer-blocking masses over time.

    These discoveries have left many wondering: who’s to blame?

    Everyone’s got an idea of who to point the finger at, but, as with any finger-pointing, the reality is often more complicated than it seems.

    Let’s look a little closer.

    The Usual Suspects

    If the finger is being pointed anywhere, it’s being pointed at fast food businesses.Fish and chips in paper

    Fast food joints get a bad rap. From the chippy on the high street to the Chinese on the corner, these businesses crank out deep fried mains, snacks and sides.

    They clearly use more cooking oil than any other small businesses. And, because they use the most oil – everyone assumes – they must be the worst FOG offenders and the plague of fatbergs we are facing must be down to them.

    But, with an awareness of fatbergs on the rise, more and more fast food business owners are facing up to the FOG problem and their own environmental, legal and even moral obligations. They’re getting clued up and it’s clear why: being in the know is good for business.

    Vito oil filtration cleaning used cooking oilFor one, cooking oil itself is costly. So, most fast food businesses use sophisticated oil filtration – cleaning their cooking oil regularly so that it can be re-used, over and over, the maximum number of times. In this way, fast food businesses not only give their profit margins a boost, but they also reduce their FOG output.

    And then there’s the risk of water company fines. Fatbergs cost water companies over £100,000 each to remove and those costs are increasingly being passed onto those businesses which are deemed responsible, in the form of fines.  Fast food joint owners know that when a fatberg is found near them, water company inspectors will come knocking on the doors of local businesses – and they’ll start with the chippy.

    Knowing this, most fast food business owners are sure to keep their grease management GBPump fitted next to sink with a grease trappractices up to scratch. They install high quality grease traps and they clean them out regularly, while sometimes throwing in a few add-ons, such as bio-dosers, which further reduce the risk of their businesses allowing stray fats, oils and grease to make it into the sewers.

    Increasingly, the usual suspects are becoming ever more conscious of the FOG problem and doing what they can to tackle it. People are realising that their initial suspicions of takeaways and fast food joints being the origins of troublesome fatbergs are being challenged.

    Anyone Can Contribute to the Fatberg Problem

    The fats, oils and grease which are necessary to form a fatberg can come from anywhere.

    One example:

    • Canteens

    At the end of 2019, a fatberg the size of three elephants was found beneath Strangeways prison in Manchester. The culprit: the prison canteen. While an individual meal may require only a small amount of oil to be used, and produce only a small amount of FOG waste – that FOG waste adds up if you make three meals a day, seven days a week for nearly one and a half thousand people.

    The same is true for the canteens attached to hospitals, office blocks, universities and schools. Without good grease management, these large kitchens feeding huge numbers of people numerous times a day will end up sending tons of FOG down the drains.

    But at least these kitchens are staffed by professionals. Those pros are more likely to be up to date on the issues facing the industry – and, therefore, they are more likely to be doing something about the FOG problem.People cooking in commercial kitchen

    The same cannot be said for:

    • Households

    As the 64 metre fatberg found in the quiet seaside town of Sidmouth showed us, a town doesn’t need to be bustling with huge numbers of FOG producing food businesses to produce a berg. A town of retirees can do that pretty much on their own.

    It can be confusing and complicated for members of the public to get rid of their used cooking oil. So, much of it ends up being poured down the sink through sheer convenience. As households are also very unlikely to have a grease trap or indeed any other grease management solution, that FOG goes straight to the sewers.

    An individual household’s FOG output is small, even over a year, relative to a small business. But, added, up, the FOG output of a town or city of residential homes can be huge.

    Add to that the impact of the wet wipes which many people are still flushing down their loos without a second thought – sending them into the sewers where they become key to the structure of fatbergs – and it is clear that the general public play their part in creating the FOG problem.

    But few people think they do anything which could be helping to cause the monstrosities in our sewers, after all, their input is so small it can’t be making a difference, can it?Woman cooking in kitchen

    Which brings us onto:

    • Coffee Shops

    As Britain becomes a nation of coffee drinkers, with a café on every corner, vast quantities of waste coffee grounds are being produced. Coffee grounds don’t break down.

    Ideally, they should be sent to the compost heap, but, in the rush and hurry of a coffee shop, this can seem like just a little too much work – some of those grounds will inevitably be sent spilling into the sink.

    We don’t yet know whether they really do help produce fatbergs, because the study of fatbergs is in its infancy. We only know that it is unlikely that those coffee grounds and other small solids do much to help the situation.Coffee grounds

    Cafés may be just another example of how we all, often unwittingly, contribute to the fatberg problem in our own way.

    So What’s the Answer to the FOG Problem?

    It’s not just down to the usual suspects behaving badly. In fact, as those usual suspects begin to behave much better than everyone else, the fingers are beginning to point at the rest of us and the usual suspects are actually the unusual suspects.

    We all need to take our FOG responsibilities seriously. That means businesses getting tough on grease with more grease traps and bio-dosers, and more regular cleaning and maintenance routines. It means households getting to know how to avoid putting FOG down the drains and it means catching any solid matter before it enters our sewers by installing something as simple as a sink strainer, at home and at the office.

    Solving the fatberg problem requires teamwork – do your bit today.

  • Title: New Strategies for Tackling Fatbergs in 2020 and Beyond

     

    The fatberg problem is huge: out of the 200,000 sewer blockages in the UK each year, 75% are caused by fats, oils and grease (FOGs).

    We all know how it goes. FOGs slip and slide down our drains and into our sewers, where they cool and coagulate, clumping together over time into monsters which block the flow of wastewater through the sewer and lead to all sorts of problems: from a boost in rat populations to sewer overflows, which see raw sewage stream straight into our waterways.

    With the UK at the forefront of the issue, with more fatbergs appearing in our sewers than in any other country around the world, it can be difficult to see a future in which the FOG problem is a thing of the past.

    So, let’s think about what the future might hold for the fight against FOG – and what that future needs to look like if we are going to crack the problem once and for all.

    Raising the Alarm

    At the moment, awareness campaigns target food businesses. It’s the food businesses who are told that they have a responsibility to manage their FOG output, and it is food businesses who are threatened with fines from water companies if they don’t co-operate.

    While expanding initiatives such as the Grease Contractors Association to get more businesses and companies co-operating to solve the problem would be a great way to keep up the good work, there’s a key area which we are struggling with, in the awareness-raising department.

     

    Wooden chopping board with knife, saucepan, ingredients and cooking oil

    Household waste makes up a significant proportion of the FOGs which make it into our sewers. Yet disposing of household fats, oils and grease can still be confusing and inconvenient. Few have time to find out the details of what they shouldn’t be putting down their sinks (does old milk count as a fat?) and few have time to stock-pile old oil before taking the bottles on a trip to their local dump.

    Without tackling household FOGs, fatbergs won’t be going anywhere any time soon. But, to do it, we need a well-organised public response to the problem which takes into account the difficulties people can have disposing of their FOGs.

    Not everyone is passionate about grease – and it will surely be a struggle to get millions of individuals across the country to reach and maintain high levels of grease management in their homes and in their businesses.

    It will be a similar struggle to the initiative to get more people recycling – but, if the proportion of our waste being recycled is going up, slowly but steadily, we can manage to get more FOGs disposed of properly, too.

    With a team effort, the future could be fatberg free.

    While we can all chip in, there are some who could:

    Take the Lead

    This could mean the government introducing legislation which ensures food producers cut down on the amount of fats, oil and grease they put into the foods we eat – cutting down on the FOGs entering circulation in the first place.

    Or it could mean the government introducing more incentives for water and energy companies to team up in the initiatives we are already seeing – converting fatbergs into biofuels in order to offset their effects.

    But leadership doesn’t necessarily need to come from government. The grease management industry needs to continue to lead the way in fine-tuning the armoury which restaurants have access to, by innovating to improve the grease-fighting products on offer.Stainless steel grease trap

    That might mean introducing greater automation to passive stainless steel grease traps or automatic grease traps or GRU's to make the clean-up operation easier or finding an innovation which means that their efficiency begins to fall when they are 75% full, rather than after the current 25% boundary.

    It could also mean boosting the efficiency of bio-dosers, such as GreasePak, with stronger yet safer strains of bacteria breaking down fats, oils and grease in drains or in traps.

    Both the government and the water industry could then take this lead to face the problem head-on.

    In The Sewers

    There’s considerable room for an upgrade.

    The Thames Supersewer – currently under construction – promises to bring with it a time when fatbergs in the capital will no longer cause raw sewage to flow straight into the river.

    What if such improvements were seen right across the country?

    Our current Victorian sewers are perfect breeding grounds for fatbergs. The plentiful supply of nooks and crannies in their rough walls are one reason why: FOGs cling to cracks and wait to attract more FOG - the masses of fats, oils and grease then snowball, particularly as wet wipes and other solid matter snags on the walls and lend a helping hand. Meanwhile, the tiny diameters of many sections of our sewers make them ripe for a blockage.

    Our sewer system is crying out for re-development. New sewers could have unblockable wide tunnels and smooth concrete walls which FOG would struggle to cling to.Cross section of large drain pipes

    What’s more, we could apply some of the technology we already have. Adding sensors to monitor build-ups of solid matter, for instance, or introducing large-scale bio-dosing, by maintaining a sewer environment which is favourable to the strains of bacteria which break down fats.

    With a standardised sewer system, we might even be able to borrow from the mining industry or take advantage of the soon-to-come leaps forward in Artificial Intelligence and robotics to ensure that no humans need to be tasked with breaking down fatbergs by hand – a machine could do the dirty work for us.

    Costs are, of course, the obstacle. But most fatbergs currently cost over a hundred thousand pounds to remove. How many fatberg-removals will it take before a sewer renovation becomes the cheaper alternative?

    As it stands a future without fatbergs seems quite far away. But there’s no reason to lose hope. In fact, it’s time to get practical and get down to business. Do your bit to stop FOGs entering our sewers, and bring a fatberg free future that little bit closer.

  • Fatbergs – Not Always the Health Hazard People Presume

     

    A year ago, a 64 metre fatberg was found in a sewer in Sidmouth. Eight weeks of work later, a crew of South West Water workers managed to remove the berg at a cost of £100,000 and sent four 10kg samples off to be analysed by a team from the University of Exeter, led by Dr John Love, Associate Professor in Plant and Industrial Biotechnology.

    Using a mix of techniques – from simply extracting and identifying the waste materials by sight to DNA sequencing, the team sifted through the samples.

    The results were surprising…

    The Fatberg Findings and Autopsy

    Fatbergs form when fats, oils and grease (FOGs) escape down our drains and into our sewers, where they cool and solidify over time.

    Often wet wipes, which fail to break down once they are flushed down our loos, end up becoming a crucial part of the structure of the fatbergs, helping them to form faster. While they form, fatbergs trap anything and everything which happens to be flowing past in the sewer – whether that’s human waste or solid objects which have been flushed intentionally or by mistake.

    Scientist with face mask using a pipette in a petri dish of blue liquid

    In the moist and slightly warm conditions of the fatberg, harmful bacteria and other micro-organisms get to work feeding off of all of the gory details, until the fatberg is a stinking cocktail of nasties.

    This means that handling a berg is usually pretty bad for your health – which is why the teams tasked with removing and studying them have to wear the full complement of health and safety gear at all times.

    However, when the Sidmouth fatberg samples were cracked open, the team of Exeter experts found that, while the berg stunk, it wasn’t quite as dangerous as they first expected: there were no harmful bacteria or toxic chemicals.

    Instead, the Sidmouth berg was simply a mix of FOGs and domestic waste  - wet wipes, sanitary towels and other household products which Sidmouth residents had put down the loo instead of throwing away.

    Together with these, were solid specimens reflecting the population of the small coastal community of retirees: a set of false teeth and a number of incontinence pads.

    These discoveries caused a great deal of doubt and prompted the question:

    Are We Wrong About Fatbergs?

    Sidmouth, with its population of just 13,000 people, is not a typical fatberg hotspot.

    We are more used to fatbergs forming in places with high population density: lots of people living in a small area means that it is more likely that more FOGs will be poured down drains in the same area, entering the same sewers and adding to the same fatbergs.

    This was true of the most famous fatberg, which hit headlines in 2017 after being discovered in Whitechapel, one of the most densely populated areas in the country.

    And that famous berg set the tone for how the fatbergs which followed were covered in the news. Because the Whitechapel berg contained a deathly mix of harmful bacteria and toxic chemicals, we all came to expect that all fatbergs would contain the same. Because the fatberg in Whitechapel contained drugs and syringes, the fact that the Sidmouth berg did not felt like a further surprise.

    What the Sidmouth Fatberg Revealed

    Crossed out biohazard symbol

    Because the famous Whitechapel fatberg set the tone for fatberg coverage, a lot of assumptions have been flying around about the fatberg problem. The Sidmouth berg unravels those assumptions and reminds us that all a fatberg really is, is an accumulation of FOGs.

    They aren’t necessarily toxic and though you might find some strange things in them, those objects are a reflection of who the people in the local area are and what they tend to end up flushing down their toilets.

    With another fatberg beginning to form in the same drain under the Esplanade in Sidmouth almost immediately after the 64 metre monster was removed, it seems that this problem in the seaside town is here to stay. And we shouldn’t be surprised if, over time, we see more bergs emerge in places where we wouldn’t necessarily expect them.

    Serving as a Grease Filled Reminder

    It Reminds Us That:

    The fatberg problem is relevant to all of us, wherever we live and whoever we are. We all need to come together to tackle it and, as all a fatberg is is an accumulation of the FOGs which manage to slip down our drains, we all know what we need to do.

    To stop fats, oils and grease getting into our sewers, invest in a quality grease trap today.

  • 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.

  • To Flush or Not to Flush

     

    For decades, the toilet has been one of the safest and efficient ways to dispose of waste matter. With time, waste matter from our bodily functions stopped being the only thing we flushed down toilets. Currently, we are more likely to flush other offensive and unimportant items down our toilets because it is fast and efficient.

    This also includes products which we are quite unsure of how to get rid of. A good example is wet wipes and sanitary pads. For years people have believed that products such as wet wipes and sanitary products are ok to flush. Some of the products even came with packaging indicating that it was okay to do so.

    This has led us to blindly flushing them down into the sewer with no thought as to where they go and what happens to them after. Now we know!

    toilet cubicles

    The Effects of Flushing

    What we flush has been building up unobserved, resulting in massive fatbergs that are only just rearing their ugly heads and causing issues that are affecting our lives above ground. A report in 2019 indicated that wet wipes cause 90% of blockages in the UK.

    These blockages and back-ups are over-spilling and churning out into public water systems with more than 20,000 wet wipes appearing on the shores of the River Thames in a 2-hour cleanup process. One particular reason for this is that most of the UK use a 29th century sewage system. It is smaller and can hardly cater to the increased demand caused by the increasing population.

    While wet wipes are meant to perform some of the tasks that can be carried out using toilet paper, they are not tissue paper. Wet wipes are made using chemicals and resins which prevent them from easily tearing apart when you use them. Additionally, they are meant to remain wet to prevent them from disintegrating when in contact with water, unlike tissue paper.

    This makes it easy for them to get caught in the sewage systems which contribute to the formation of fatbergs. When they do eventually break down, the chemicals used to make up the plastics get into the environment.

    The wet wipes also contain synthetic fibres like polyester and polyethylene which have been found to affect other organisms such as wildlife. Animals found to ingest such pollution in the form of microplastics have experienced blood poisoning, hormone imbalance and have had issues with their reproduction.

    Their testing, especially the European standards of testing also only factored their ability to get flushed down the toilet without causing household blockages. However, wet wipes also need to be biodegradable. This allows the wet wipes to break down in the sewer system.

    Measures Taken to Address Flushing of Wet Wipes

    The issue surrounding wet wipes has been massively discussed in the media. This saw the creation of the ‘fine to flush’ campaign.

    The main objective of the campaign is to not only educate the public and give them peace of mind that they’re not contributing to the problem but also to salvage the reputations of companies that for years have been saying it is fine to flush their products.

    What is the Fine to Flush campaign?

    The Fine to Flush campaign was solely created to address wet wipes and their contribution to fatbergs. It allows the creation of an official standard that identifies which wet wipes are actually fine to flush without causing adverse effects to the environment.

    Wet wipes must undergo strict testing to receive certification. One requirement is that they must break down quickly enough so as not to cause blockages in the drainage systems. They also must not contain harmful chemicals which will affect the environment. Under the rules of the Fine to Flush campaign, manufacturers must have their products tested to determine whether they meet the required standards.

    Fortunately, some brands in the UK have taken the initiative to produce flushable wet wipes that have no adverse effect on the environment. For example, Natracare is the first UK brand to carry the symbol claiming to be ‘truly flushable’ and is 100% plastic-free.

    On the Safe Side

    Everyone is busy educating about FOG, with commercial kitchens understanding the implications of poor grease management and the importance of investing in, installing, maintaining and cleaning grease traps.

    However, these are not the only contributors to fatbergs in the UK’s sewer system. The efforts to ensure that commercial kitchen owners act responsibly won’t protect against wet wipes. In order to tackle all areas of fatberg contributors, measures need to be taken in order to combat the whole problem head-on.toilet paper

    One of the safest ways to prevent fatbergs is still to remember the 3 P’s rule. Only flush pee, poo and paper. In instances where wet wipes need to be used, or if you’re thinking of putting something down the toilet, be sure to look out for the ‘fine to flush’ logo.

    Wet Wipes are Our Responsibility

    Wet wipes are an incredibly important (and convenient) part of our lives. They are compact and easily portable allowing us to carry them everywhere. They help us maintain hygiene standards without the stress of looking for or having to carry water. However, we need to be responsible in regards to the kind of wet wipes we use and how we dispose of them lest they create an even bigger problem to the environment in the future.

  • The Number 1 Thing People Don’t Consider When Starting A Food Business

     

    You’re there: you’ve bought your ingredients, your ware washers and your deep fat fryers, you’ve rented your premises and, after an intense brainstorm, you’ve come up with a great name and a fantastic strategy to attract punters to your brand-new food business.

    But, if you haven’t factored one thing in, your gloriously constructed plan might be fatally flawed.

    What is the one thing people don’t consider when starting up a food business?

    Fatbergs

    Dirty dinner plate

    The scourge of our sewers, fatbergs build up slowly from an accumulation of Fats, Oils and Grease (FOGs). These FOGs come from our kitchens: from the residue on plates, which gets washed down the drain while we wash up, to the used oil which is improperly disposed of because no-one knows what to do with it.

    Once in the sewers, the FOGs solidify into masses which catch all sorts of gory details, from wet wipes to faecal matter, and block the sewer – making it more likely that raw sewage will end up spewing straight out into our waterways.

    And that’s not all. On top of the environmental cost of fatbergs, there’s a financial side, too.

    Not only does it cost water companies a huge amount of money to remove fatbergs from sewers, but they also face fines when they don’t work hard enough to prevent the associated Gold pound signspill of raw sewage into rivers and streams.

    Those fines have been stepped up in recent years: back in 2017, Thames Water was fined a gargantuan £20.3 million by the Environmental Agency after a huge leak of 1.4 billion litres of raw sewage into the Thames and its tributaries.

    And that stepping up means there’s also been a stepping up of the fines which water companies, in turn, have been handing out to businesses deemed to be responsible for fatbergs. Just a couple of weeks ago, Thames Water fined the Chinese food company Hypergood Ltd, which trades under the name Royal Gourmet, a record £420,000 for allowing FOGs to enter the sewers.

    The fatberg problem is getting serious and water companies are getting serious about it, and that means that food business owners new and old need to get on the right side of the fight before they and the environment pay a hefty penalty.

    How do you solve the fatberg problem? 

    Get Clued Up and Get A Grease Trap

    If you are new to the issue, firstly you need to find out more about fatbergs and their effects on the environment. Then, decide on the right grease trap and what size grease trap you need, get it installed and learn to keep it clean and working efficiently. This will start your business on the right path to begin your fatberg free journey.

  • 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.

  • The Super Sewer Strikes Back

     

    The world has undoubtedly progressed and developed through the ages. This is a good thing, after all we wouldn’t have the medication, technology and modern comforts that are often taken for granted in the 21st Century. However the introduction of man-made convenience items such as baby wipes, condoms and sanitary wear have led to and created a new set of problems. Coupled with the increased use and production of fats, oils and grease mainly during cooking, the once hallowed sewer system of the 19th Century just isn’t able to cope with today’s modern lifestyle.

    For too long, the sewers beneath our feet have been dominated by massive accumulations of fats, oils and grease combined with solid waste that is irresponsibly disposed of down the toilet. It’s time that the sewers fought back.

    London’s Old Sewers

    All of London’s sewage was once washed straight into the Thames. This meant that, for a long River Thames, Londontime, the city stunk. In the 19th century, the problems became much more serious. In 1832, London experienced its first big outbreak of deadly cholera, which was followed by two more in the space of 25 years. These outbreaks were blamed on the bad smell.

    In 1858 the crisis reached its peak: at a time when 400,000 tonnes of sewage was being washed into the Thames each day, a particularly hot summer meant that the river’s water level fell and exposed decades’ worth of the city’s waste to stagnate in the sun.

    The House of Commons could no longer ignore the stench of what became known as The Great Stink. After attempting to move Parliament to Oxford, MPs drafted in an engineer named Joseph Bazalgette and told him to find a way to direct waste to sewage treatment plants outside of the city. Bazalgette responded by building the system of sewers that is still in use today.

    Our Modern Problems

    Over 150 years later, we have our own waste problems to deal with. London’s population has tripled since Bazalgette was around and most of those 9 million Londoners do not live like Victorians. The sewers were designed to overflow into the Thames once a month, but now they pollute the river each and every week.

    Meanwhile, the modern way of life means that the same sewers must handle something Bazalgette could never have predicted: Fatbergs. These huge blocks of Fats, Oils and Grease (FOGs) frequently block up the sewers under London’s streets and make it even more likely that our sewage will end up flowing directly into the Thames.

    The Solution?water and sunset view through pipe

    Thankfully, Bazalgette Ltd. is working on it, constructing a super sewer named Tideway. When it is completed in 2023, Tideway will be a 15 mile network of large sewers running under the Thames from Acton to Abbey Mills. The £4.2 billion Tideway tunnels will catch the overflow from the old sewers, store it, and then re-direct it to Beckton Sewerage Treatment Works where it will be treated and, once clean, released into the river.

    Tideway vs Fatbergs

    Tideway promises to clean up the Thames, and will mean that the Victorian sewers will be better able to cope with the strains of London’s growing population and the modern way of life. But Tideway doesn’t completely tackle the problem.

    Thames Water now spends about £1 million per month clearing fatbergs from London’s Victorian sewers and fatbergs will continue to form under London’s streets for the foreseeable future. Eventually, we may even see huge clogs in Tideway’s much bigger tunnels under the Thames, which would be even more expensive to clear.

    Water companies are stepping up the war, not only against fatbergs but against the businesses that directly contribute to their formation. Investigation into the origins of a fatberg have brought about a number of fines imposed on offending businesses to help cover the cost of clearing the blockage. Currently fines often stretch into thousands of pounds and that’s with a smaller, dated sewer system. As Tideway is developed, this massive super sewer will alleviate the issue however if people continue to abuse the sewer system, clogs will form again – but double or triple the size. Just think what the cost of fines would be then.

    What Can You Do About It?Stainless steel grease trap

    The direct solutions are still the best. Being aware of the impact of what you pour down the sink, and installing and using the correct sized grease traps in your drains stops the problem at its source, by preventing fatberg producing FOGs from getting into the sewers in the first place.

    While foodservice businesses and takeaways are deemed to be the main culprits, it isn’t only these premises that need to brush up on their grease management and clamp down on irresponsible behaviour. Domestic households are also contributors. The amount of FOG produced in a family home might not be of fatberg forming quantities but every little bit does damage. On top of this, domestic premises are the main culprits when it comes to flushing solid materials down the toilet – anything other than the 3 P’s (pee, poo and paper) is not acceptable.

     

    The new super sewer is yet another progression in societies advancement, a sign that systems below ground are evolving and developing just as society is above it. Responding to the growing needs and demands of a rapidly expanding population however, is remedy to just part of the problem. It’s vital that we use the opportunity that Tideway promises as the catalyst to address our own individual grease management practises and disposal tactics, both on the commercial and domestic front.

  • Putting Unruly Fatbergs to Good Use

    The Origins of a Fatberg

    Life has changed dramatically from centuries ago – even basic advancements in our daily activities, such as the use of soap, wet wipes and the introduction of different cooking techniques are now taken for granted. While making the world an easier and more comfortable place to live, these advancements often carry with them a number of disadvantages. At times, these disadvantages cause more harm to the environment than bargained for.

    The by-products from this modern lifestyle are increasingly showing themselves in the formation of the newly coined term for the environmental scourge known as a fatberg; a collection of solid waste from our daily consumption which forms in sewer lines of major cities around the world. Other than causing blockages in the aging sewer system, which at times can even cause material damage, these fatbergs can also harm wildlife.

    Fatbergs are made up of something called FOG (fat, oil and grease). It is a combination of oil, grease, fat, and solid items such as baby wipes, make-up and sanitary pads, nappies, hair and so much more which combine and congeal to create blockages, ranging from inconsequential lumps to gargantuan masses. This waste usually originates from waste products incorrectly disposed of from homes and commercial food service businesses, this waste unable to be broken down and so mostly collects in drainage systems.

    Busy city street

    Increase in Fatbergs in Cities

    Years of using non-biodegradable materials in millions of homes and businesses and incorrectly disposing of kitchen products, is increasingly showing its effect on the environment. The unhealthy habit of pouring fats and oils down sinks, which ultimately solidify and merge with waste materials, is proven to be the cause of fatbergs. Densely populated areas where high concentrations of waste are produced, are a prime breeding ground for these increasingly common phenomena.

    Cases of fatbergs being discovered in sewers, some as big as 64 metres, have been discovered in various cities. London’s largest fatberg; the Whitechapel Fatberg, whose last remains lay in the Museum of London , weighed 130 tonnes and stretched to more than 250 metres. The mass contained different kinds of waste materials such as nappies, wet wipes, condoms, fat and oils.

    This is, of course, a great nuisance to water companies who have to clear sewer systems as it takes workers days, even weeks of hard work to clear these obstructions and at great cost.

    Using Fatbergs for Good

    Green bio sign

    Recent avenues and developments, that have been investigated in reaction to the fatberg problem, have shown that it is possible to turn fatbergs into useful materials. Scientists have, in the recent past, discovered new ways to deal with fatbergs. This is done by turning these masses of waste into biodiesel. Biodiesel is a clean fuel which can be used in motor vehicles, commercial transport vehicles and airlines and produces less pollution in the atmosphere. New regulations are urging companies to increase the volume of biofuels being used by 2020 as a means to tackle climate change.

    The production of biodiesel involves turning the fats and oils into useful by-products. These fats and oils can sometimes make up to 40 percent of a fatberg. The process is rather simple and effective.

    The fatberg is collected and put into a pit where it is heated to liquefy the fats and oils. The fats and oils are then taken through a cleaning process which involves getting rid of all solid waste such as debris, sludge and slime. Water is also removed before the oil, which is now pure, is turned into biodiesel through the addition of chemicals.

    While the process of turning fatbergs into biodiesel is tried and tested, it is fairly new and does not completely address the fatberg problem. This means that fatbergs will still continue to clog sewers and affect the environment for some time to come.

    The creation of biodiesel leaves a lot of waste behind since not all elements of the fatbergs are used up. This can easily be handled through a process that allows the creation of methane gas which burns to release water and minimal levels of carbon dioxide.

    The waste is put in a biodigester before adding hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide works to digest any organic matter, thus reducing the size of the fatberg. It then leaves behind the non-bio degradable solid matter such as food wrappers and other general waste. The anaerobic bacteria in the digester reacts on the material left behind to produce methane.

    Handling the Fatberg Menace

    While treating fatbergs and turning them into useful environmentally friendly materials is a great idea and just one solution to the menace they cause, it is not the ideal solution. Treating fatbergs is like making the best out of a bad situation. The process costs time, money and resources.

    Goslyn GOS40 GRU Goslyn GOS40 GRU Automatic Grease Trap

    The best way to prevent these gross formations from causing harm to the environment is by not making them in the first place. This can be done through education of both domestic and commercial properties on the causes of fatbergs and how they can be avoided and also by reducing the amount of non-biodegradable materials produced such as single-use plastics and wet wipes. It also entails installing grease traps to prevent fats and oils from getting into drainage systems through disposal of waste down the sink in commercial food establishments.

    While these scientific treatments may treat and deal with the effects, it doesn’t remedy the course or the source of the problem. Ultimately these processes are reactive and not proactive to a completely preventable occurrence.

    Fatbergs are less likely to disappear from beneath our cities as long as large quantities of non-reusable products continue to be sold to consumers and people remain ignorant of the impact of their actions. Management however, is important to make sure that the repercussions on the environment can be limited and the best is made from a bad situation.

     

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