‘Fatberg’. The word conjures up images of large blocks of fat, oil and grease, like the one found in Kingston in 2013 that weighed 15 tonnes and was reported to be the size of a double decker bus. However, the label is misleading. Fatbergs build up from the fats which are disposed into the sewers every day, but wipes are a key component of these sewer menaces.
The name ‘fatberg’ may have entered the dictionary in 2015, but the problems with giant congealed blockages in our sewers have been building for years. In 2014, a fatberg the “length of a Boeing 747” was found in Shepherd’s Bush, while, in 2015, a Chelsea fatberg described as having the “weight of five Porsche 911s” caused £400,000 worth of damage to the sewers. Awareness of the effects of fat, oil and grease on our sewers has grown. The next vital step is increased awareness of the dangers of flushing wipes in creating fatbergs.
Wipes increase the mass of fatbergs, contributing to the growths of congealed fat waste beneath our streets. Although many are marketed as ‘flushable’, no wipe currently available has passed water companies’ tests about what materials are suitable to be disposed of in the sewer. Only toilet tissue is acceptable, but that hasn’t stopped manufacturers of wipes utilising their own definitions of what ‘flushable’ is.
Fatbergs and related drainage problems, including those impacted by flushing wipes, account for half of the 7,000 blockages reported by Thames Water each year. They serve 14 million people in the South East, so extrapolating those figures across the UK creates statistics that are even more alarming.
No one person or business can prevent the rise of fatbergs by themselves. To address the problem, we need a cultural shift in how we deal with our waste. Awareness of the dangers of draining fat, oil and grease into the sewers is growing. Next, we need everyone to repeat this simple mantra whenever they think about flushing a wipe: “bin it, don’t flush it”.