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grease management

  • 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.

     

  • Anatomy of a Fatberg

     

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

    Foundations of a Fatberg

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

    A fatberg is formed.

    Are There Any Other Contributing Factors?

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

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

    What Are the Effects of Fatbergs?

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

    Where Do They Form?

    Victorian sewer

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

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

    Combatting Fatbergs

    Highlighting Bad Habits

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

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

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

    Reactive Response

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

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

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

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

    Proactive Solution

    Educating domestic and commercial premises is essential.

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

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

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

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

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

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