Fatbergs: What are they and how to prevent them from forming?

In 2017, a 250m-long fatberg was identified in the Whitechapel neighbourhood of East London. For reference, that is the length of the Tower Bridge. Cleaning crews took three weeks to break down and remove this 130-ton “monster” fatberg, almost as heavy as a blue whale!

In 2019, the Thames Water engineers cleared a 40-tonne fatberg – this time the equivalent size of three double-decker buses – from a London sewer. They had to literally pull out some of the fatberg out by hand in addition to using high-powered water jets to blast the blockage loose.

Fatbergs are formed when fat, oil and grease (FOG) are poured down kitchen and bathroom sinks and drains and combined with items such as unflushable nappies, toilet paper, cotton buds and wet wipes.

Careless and unsanitary practices have led to massive amounts of fat and grease clogging up the British sewer systems, the removal of which takes up to weeks of effort and costs millions of pounds. Clearly, British businesses need to pay attention to what they are putting down their sinks and toilets and ensure periodic wastewater treatment. But how are fatbergs formed, to begin with? Let us find out in this blog post:

The fatberg menace: It builds up over time!

Well, a fatberg is a large mass of fat and grease formed from congealed fatty items flushed into the sewerage system. It is formed over time as more and more fat accumulates inside a sewage drain, especially when flushed non-biodegradable solids and greasy deposits accompany the fat.

Hospitality businesses and food producers generate large volumes of FOG waste during the course of their operations. Ordinary dishwashing simply washes the fats and grease off the utensils and into the drain. If not filtered out properly, FOGs make it into the sewage system, thicken, and form huge clumps of solidified material – also known as fatbergs.

If not caught in time, they can clog up drainage systems and be regurgitated back up, leading to flooding and sanitation crises. Moreover, chunks of the fatberg that break off and make it into rivers and oceans pose threats to aquatic wildlife.

How individuals in a personal and professional setting can avoid contributing to fatbergs

How to prevent fatbergs, you ask? It is vital to be mindful of what one is putting down the sink or toilet. Most products such as wet wipes and cotton buds, will come with labels that clearly say whether or not they can be flushed.

Even labels may not always be accurate, so it is essential to be extra mindful and put waste in the rubbish bin if uncertain about whether or not to flush it.

For instance, if you are a fish n’ chips takeaway; butter, dairy, and dressing should not be rinsed down the kitchen sink, no matter how powerful it is. The only way to properly deal with them is to dissolve FOGs using biodigesters like BiOWiSH® Aqua FOG or manage the waste through sustainable practices.

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How businesses can help maintain fatberg-free drainage systems

An immense responsibility is on businesses to educate their staff and customers about sanitary practices and to make it easy for them to know what to dispose of and where. Here is how they can get started:

1. Labelling in toilets

Toilets can be equipped with separate (labelled) disposal units for nappies and sanitary wear. These should be cleaned out on a regular basis to avoid overflowing and expensive wastewater treatment – when things get out of hand!

2. Scraping any food particles off the plates

This is important to remember if you are a commercial kitchen. Steps should be taken to avoid the accumulation of FOG in the drainage system, as these are the most significant contributors to fatbergs. A helpful solution is to scrape any food particles off plates and into the bin and to clean all cooking equipment of grease before rinsing them in the sink.

3. Investing in BiOWiSH® Aqua FOG

How to get rid of fatbergs? Equipping all sinks with grease traps will help catch any residual grease, especially in restaurants or other food businesses that deal with high volumes of grease every day. However, we have a better solution to deal with that grease.

Nowadays, several intelligent grease degradation products are available that use microbiological tech to break down grease matter without releasing any environmentally harmful byproducts.

BiOWiSH® Aqua FOG is a natural solution specifically formulated for wastewater or influent streams with FOG content over 100 mg/L. Using it regularly will boost the efficiency of grease traps, dissolved air flotation (DAF) units, aerobic treatment systems, and oil-water separators.

BiOWiSH® Aqua FOG also helps you control odour, eliminate sludge production, and reduce pump-out costs. Waste2ES is an exclusive partner of BiOWiSH® in the UK, and you can easily purchase the product through us. Contact us today if you would like a free consultation.

4. Examine your ducting system and get it professionally cleaned

And finally, you should call in professionals every now and then to inspect your drains and clean up any accumulated particles before they become fatbergs. You see, the ducting system transmits odours out of the building, so how odour-free your place of business is will depend heavily on what your ducts look like. It might not be feasible to redo all your ducting.

However, you can still keep foul odours at bay by hiring professionals to clean them regularly. This will get rid of any nasty grease and smoke build-ups and help maintain the ducts so that they stay structurally sound and, more importantly, clean.

Over to you

Fatbergs are not just costly to remove; they are also terrible for the environment – something Waste2ES is totally against! Therefore, businesses must do right by the planet and invest in hygiene practices that allow for safe waste disposal and proper wastewater treatment – regardless of their industry vertical.

As far as individuals are concerned, a simple rule of thumb is to be mindful about what they rinse down the sink or flush in the toilet. For the rest, stick to disposal bins, or look it up online – there are plenty of resources to help you make the right choice. Environment comes first!

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