Fighting Against the Fatbergs


Most people know about the Fatberg problem. Having hit the front pages and featured in dedicated museum exhibitions, Fatbergs have become familiar to a wide audience — even if the issue isn’t quite dinner table conversation across the nation. Many people understand that the problem stems from our bad habit of letting fats, oils and grease (FOGs) slip down our drains into our sewers, where they solidify and form hard-to-remove Fatbergs over time.

With the growth in awareness, there’s also been a growth in problem-solving: we are approaching the solution bit by bit, drain by drain.

And it’s all down to teamwork, as water companies, environmental boards and individual food businesses work together across the UK.

How exactly are they doing it?

It all comes down to:

Education Education Education

Water companies and environmental boards are the biggest powers spreading the word about the issue at hand.

Taking Their Teachings Direct to the Food Businesses

Letter cubes spelling 'teach' in front of books

Water companies are using their influence and standing as an authority on the subject to introduce a number of initiatives which intend to recommend kitchen procedures and train staff to prevent FOGs from slipping down the drains.

Back in 2018, Scottish Water started work in partnership with Environmental Compliance and Services (ECAS) to spread the word in St Andrews. ECAS officers visited restaurants, pubs, hotels, fast food joints, cafés, schools and canteens to spread the good news: to persuade the 8 in 10 food establishments without adequate grease management systems that they can be part of the solution, keeping fats and grease out of the sewers and sending their waste to be turned into biofuels instead.

This year, in Shaftesbury, where over 850,000 litres of FOGs are removed from the drains every twelve months, ECAS and Wessex Water are leading the Stop the Block initiative, visiting businesses and advising staff on methods to prevent pollution: from scraping food waste into the bin instead of into the sink and using a strainer in their drains, to installing a quality grease trap and having it professionally pumped on a regular basis.

While these initiatives are certainly facing up to obstacles, including the rapid turnover of workers within the food industry — meaning that trained workers frequently leave to be replaced by new employees who are not aware of how to safely dispose of FOG waste — they are sure signs of progress and reasons to be hopeful.

Another reason to have some hope?

Spreading the Word to the Next Generation

Down in Devon, on World Environment Day earlier this year, prospective students at South Devon University Technical College were herded into a laboratory and tasked with coming up with a solution to the Fatberg problem. The prize? A VIP experience with the Environment Agency.

Targeting these environmental scientists and food business owners of the future, the project saw a spreading of awareness and understanding — inspiring a set of students by presenting them with a problem of the times and encouraging them to give the solution their best shot.

And, while this inspiration is being sparked, elsewhere

Silhouette of man with megaphone

Food Businesses Are Spreading the Word Amongst Themselves  

Certain heroic enterprises are taking the lead against the Fatberg problem - doing what they can, on their own, to tackle FOGs.

Besides the leaps taken by chains such as Holland & Barrett, who stopped selling wet wipes in May after awareness spread that those wipes often end up binding fatbergs together, there are the contributions of individual food outlets.

One of these leaders is the Cromars chippie in St Andrews. 35 years ago, the landlord who still owns the building installed the first grease trap, in a pioneering move. His decision to invest in quality grease management was passed down over the years: out of 130 food businesses in St Andrews visited as part of the Fat Free Sewers initiative mentioned above, only 6 had grease traps and only Cromars had a grease trap which was the right size.

With this reminder that there has been, for decades, at least some awareness of the FOG problem, the current push for wider understanding of the fatbergs which keep clogging our sewers seems to have a much more feasible goal: the issue isn’t brand new — we just have to bring the same old conversation into the spotlight.

Silhouettes of people with coloured speech bubbles

In the fight against fatbergs, it’s time for us all to communicate with each other and …

Take the Lead

Though the battle may seem daunting, by pulling together we are getting a huge amount done, and we are sure to accomplish much more in the years to come. If you haven’t already, invest in a quality automatic grease trap, tell everyone you know, and put the FOG issue firmly on the map.