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grease management

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • What Size Grease Trap Do I Need?

     

    Grease traps are an important addition to any commercial kitchen. Their work in limiting the amount of harmful waste that ends up in the drainage systems and consequently the environment can never be overstated.

    Every year, millions of litres of wastewater get dumped into the drainage system in the UK alone from activities carried out in commercial kitchens. On the same thread, water companies spend millions clearing blockages caused by fatbergs which are as a direct result from the FOG introduced by this wastewater from the commercial kitchen.

    To prevent this from happening, authorities have introduced laws, regulations and guidelines that involve the usage of grease traps in any commercial establishment serving food. While this isn’t compulsory at present in England, it is strongly advised and will likely become a legal requirement (as it is in Scotland) very soon. You could pay hefty fines for failure to use the appropriate grease traps as directed by your local authorities.

    Given the importance of a grease trap to your business and the environment at large, it is important for you, as a commercial kitchen owner, to understand what kind of grease trap you need and the appropriate size for maximum effect.Water in a sink

    Picking the Right Size

    Grease traps do not come in one universal size, the same way, not all commercial food establishment are equal. Therefore, you need to understand what size of the grease trap is most ideal for you.

    The work of the grease trap is to slow down wastewater coming from the outlet of the sink of dishwasher long enough for it to cool down. The grease can then separate from the water before the water flows out.

    Picking a smaller or bigger grease trap could cause overflows or back-ups in your drainage systems. Both of these outcomes are bound to create a mess you do not want to have to handle in your commercial kitchen. The kitchen would need to be shut down for deep cleaning, resulting in unexpected down-time and loss of profit. It might also lead to the FOG being released into the drainage system thus rendering the grease trap ineffective and your business at risk of prosecution.

    The grease traps you will be using are sized according to the rate of water flowing in gallons per minute (GPM). This flow will further be determined by the number of sink outlets and applicable equipment such as glasswasher and dishwashers in your commercial kitchen. Therefore, the more flow of water you have the bigger your grease trap should be.

    This is then calculated against the grease trap’s capacity to determine how much waste it can handle at any particular time. Here are some of the calculations you will have to do for your grease traps.Calculator

    Pot Washing Sinks

    To calculate the flow rate;

    • First, start by multiplying the length by the width and depth of your sink in inches. This gives you the capacity of the sink in cubic inches.
    • Then convert these cubic inches to gallons per minute in order to get the flow rate. You will do this by dividing the cubic inches by 231.
    • Adjust for displacement i.e. the actual capacity of the sink that you will be using, by multiplying it by 0.75.

    Your math should look like this

    L x W x D to give you X as the capacity of the sink then X/231 to give you Y as the flow rate in gallons per minute (GPM). Then Y multiplied by 0.75 to give you the size of the grease trap you will need for your commercial kitchen.

    In the event you are using multiple sinks in your establishment and one grease trap;

    • Calculate the flow rate for each individual sink
    • Take 100% of the largest flow rate, 50% of the second largest and 25% of the rest and add them together.
    • The flow rate you get is what’s recommended for that particular grease trap.

    Stainless steel grease trap

    Dishwashing machines

    Normally, authorities require that dishwashers have individual grease traps. They are different from conventional sinks since their capacity is clearly indicated.

    • For machines with a 10-15 gallons capacity, use a grease trap that can handle at 15 pounds or higher.
    • 20 to 30 gallons require a grease trap that can handle at least 20 pounds.

    You do not have to carry out all these calculations for your grease traps alone. You could simply seek advice from a reputable grease trap supplier or from the local water company who will carry out a site visit and advise on the appropriate grease trap, including advising you on other factors such as the cost-effectiveness of the items.

  • 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.

  • Poor Grease Management and FOG – the Effects on the Environment

     

    The idea of the climate breaking down is a terrifying thought – and it can be difficult to see how small acts can add up to create such a huge problem. Poor grease management is, nevertheless, part of that problem. Let’s take a closer look… 

    It All Begins with An Inefficient KitchenBottle and bowl of oil

    Letting fats and oils go to waste, by cooking with more oil than we need and failing to re-use as much as we can, is not only bad for our bank balances.

    Those wasted fats and oils have got to come from somewhere: whether we are talking about animal fats or plant-based oils, we are talking about the end product of a long agricultural and industrial process, both of which see massive amounts of energy expended and tonnes of carbon released into the atmosphere, contributing to the climate crisis which we are now experiencing.

    Remembering that oil doesn’t just cost money, it costs carbon, and keeping waste to a minimum is one small, easy step which we can all take to help avoid the breakdown of the natural world: know how much oil you need to use, don’t use more and re-use what’s leftover. 

    Then: Don’t Block the Drain

    Though it might be inevitable that some will slip and slide down the plughole, letting fats, oils and grease go down the drain is never a good idea: FOGs block pipes.

    If your drains are blocked, you are much more likely to pour a whole load of drain-cleaning chemicals down your sink.

    Just like the fats and oils themselves, those chemicals have got to come from somewhere. Just like the fats and oils, those cleaning compounds are the end product of a long industrial process which also expends a huge amount of energy and also releases tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere.

    Keeping blockages to a minimum by being careful to avoid FOGs slipping down your sink is one more way to protect the planet.

    In the Sewers

    Goslyn GOS40 GRUAnother way to save the world is to install a grease trap or grease removal unit.

    Without one, the fats and oils which do go down the drain flow straight through into the sewer (together with those cleaning chemicals).

    In the sewer, fats, oils and grease congeal in the cold and solidify, slowing the flow of sewage before eventually snowballing into fatbergs which clog the sewer altogether.

    We know that fatbergs make it more likely that our sewers will overflow, releasing raw sewage directly into our waterways.

    But fatbergs also amplify the toxicity of the sewage: they trap and hold everything which tries to flow past in place, from human waste and food deposits to wet wipes, condoms and drugs.

    In the sewer’s cool damp conditions, without much oxygen, harmful strains of bacteria thrive with plenty of time to anaerobically break down what is in the sewage, producing toxic by-products.

    The environmental impact of this increase in toxicity comes into play when we try to…

    Clear Out the FatbergWater jet

    Fatberg extraction usually means a small team working for weeks with high-powered jet hoses to break down the berg. Usually working at night, they need lighting for the street and for the sewer. Then they need vans burning fuel to cart off chunks of the berg to a sewage treatment plant. This is a lot of energy which would not need to be used if it wasn’t for the fatberg.

    On top of this, fatbergs make sewage treatment far less efficient. The more toxic the sewage and the more solid the matter, the more processing that sewage needs: this means more energy and more industrial chemicals (like chlorine) need to be used to treat it.

    What comes out the other side will not look so pretty, either. When dealing with a fatberg, a lower proportion of clean water and a higher proportion of the waste product or sewage sludge will be produced than if the treatment plants only had to deal with the 3Ps (pee, poo, paper).

    What Can We Do?

    Thames Water and Argent Energy have teamed up to convert fatbergs into biodiesel, meaning that at least some of those sewer blockers can become fuel.

    While this does off-set the energy required to deal with the fatberg problem, however, not having a fatberg problem in the first place would be much better for the natural world.

    Install a grease trap or grease removal unit – and come back soon to read about the impact of poor grease management on wildlife.

     

  • Why Do Grease Traps Smell So Bad? A Solution

    Fried foods tend to smell pretty tasty, but rancid FOGs (Fats, Oils and Grease) rarely do. Because of this, trapping grease in a box and leaving it there for it to go off may not seem like such a good idea, at first. Those first thoughts can make some forget the environmental benefits and put off investing in a grease trap.

    But, those first thoughts are wrong. Here’s how to avoid the grease trap stink problem.

    First, let’s go over the basics:

    How Do Grease Traps Work?

    Most grease traps look pretty simple: a box with a pipe feeding in and a pipe feeding out. They are found in the midst of a food business’ drainage pipes, usually in a back room (where the dish-washing goes on), either visible, above ground, or neatly tucked away beneath a manhole cover.

    Grease traps can come in several different sizes. The more FOGs a business produces, the bigger the grease trap they will need: a chicken and chip shop will need a bigger trap than the raw-vegan eatery down the street.

    Grease traps are designed to give the hot greasy water which you pour down your plughole a chance to cool. As that greasy water cools, the oils in it solidify and float to the surface.

    Many grease traps are designed with a grease separation chamber which (you guessed it) keeps this surface layer of solidified FOGs separate from the rest of the water. Many grease traps also contain a sludge trap which catches all of the solid bits of food which sink to the bottom of the box. The water, in the middle, then continues on its journey to the sewers.

    How passive grease traps work

    Now: What Makes the Trap Stink?   

    With those layers of FOGs and solid food sludge separated out, ever-present and ever-hungry bacteria get to work. The worst of the smell actually comes from the decomposition of the solid food deposits at the bottom of the grease trap: this is the layer which will cause bacteria to release pungent nitrates and rotten-egg-smelling sulphates as they digest it.

    Luckily, grease traps are fitted with pretty good seals which tend to hold back most, if not all, of these odours.

    But, if the smell is too strong to be held back…

    What Can You Do About It?

    While trying to kill the bacteria in your trap by pouring gallons of disinfectant down your drains may sound like a simple solution, there’s nothing better than simply cleaning your grease trap out regularly.

    How regular “regularly” is will depend largely on the size of the grease trap in question: the smaller the grease trap, the faster it will fill up. While some need emptying every week, others can go three months without being drained.

    Even better, get an expert to clean your trap out for you. While some types of traps, such as automatic grease traps, are designed to make it easy for you to dispose of your FOGs yourself, going for a larger stainless-steel trap and employing a professional can be a sensible step further for a bigger food business.

    Not only will this spare your unluckiest member of staff some dirty work, you can rest easy knowing that your trap is in safe hands: no parts will be misplaced or replaced incorrectly and, in the long term, your chosen professional can keep an eye on how the trap is working (checking the seals for wear and tear which may make them faulty, for instance).

    Looking after your grease trap well will help it look after our sewers. Most grease traps begin to lose their efficiency once they are a quarter-full: after that, FOGs begin to slide right through. So, keeping your grease trap clean and maintained in full working order will not only save you from the smell, it will help to save our planet from this slimy pollution.

  • 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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