In June 2021, one of the UK’s largest pub management companies had to pay over £90,000 for failing to prevent large amounts of cooking oil and fat from entering the Thames water network in Yarnton, Oxfordshire.
They pleaded guilty to having breached the Water Industry Act 1991 and had to pay compensation and costs in addition to a hefty fine of £75,000.
Going forward, the Thames sewer protection team is working with the company to train them in proper grease management techniques — something that should have happened long ago to avoid this mishap.
The severity of the fine indicates the seriousness of the problem with improper fat and oil treatment — but the big question is, how exactly does a water company find out the real culprit behind a fatberg? This article delves into that.
Studying the real problem with FOG
FOG (short for fats, oils and grease) waste is one of the chief menaces of the UK sewage treatment system. Restaurants, food producers and hospitality businesses generate large volumes of FOG waste every day in the course of their operations.
Unfortunately, ordinary dishwashing simply washes these off the utensils and into the drain. If not filtered out properly, fats and oils that make it into the sewage system will congeal and form huge clumps of solidified material, known as fatbergs.
These can lead to sewage backups and even cause flooding, and are highly detrimental forms of environmental pollution.
Following the trail: whole different ball game
Any particular fatberg may result from communal negligence on the part of several businesses or one business in particular. One way to identify possible suspects is by examining the sewage walls thoroughly.
Typically, any polluting drain will have a trail of FOG deposits tracing back to it from the fatberg. Once the water company has conducted a physical examination or used remote cameras to make notes on the condition of the sewer walls, they need only to identify which street the responsible drain belongs to, and they will have their circle of likely culprits.
After the water company has drawn up their list of suspects, an inspector will visit them one by one. If they see that the business follows sound grease management techniques and has a grease trap or other solution in place like BiOWiSH® Aqua FOG, they will move on to the next suspect.
However, if a business does not have a grease trap or any other means of eradicating it, they are much more likely to have contributed to the fatberg, and the water company will examine them further.
What happens next
One important point to remember is that even if your business is found responsible for part or all of a fatberg, you would not necessarily be fined straight off.
Case in point — in 2017, a Thames Water study of the food outlets, including restaurants and takeaways, in London found that 90% of them did not have grease traps installed and were not practising appropriate grease management techniques.
As a result, oil, grease and food scraps washed off utensils, plates and saucepans found their way into pipes and drains, choking the capital’s sewers. This, however, is very often because of simple ignorance about such techniques and not willful non-compliance.
Water companies also know that many well-meaning food outlets pay hundreds of pounds on their account to clear the fats and greases that block up their pipes. It is thus in everyone’s interest to focus on spreading awareness before slapping fines.
Therefore, the first step that water companies take is to distribute leaflets and hold coaching sessions with the offending party to show them the negative impact of FOGs and how to pick the proper solutions to avoid the accumulation of fatbergs in the waterways.
Wrapping it up
Usually, food outlets will see reason and make the necessary adjustments to clean their grease up better. The water companies will impose fines only when businesses consistently ignore the recommendations and fail subsequent grease inspections.
And as we have seen, these fines can be hefty, so do the smart thing and use BiOWiSH® Aqua FOG solution to degrade contaminants into granular forms which are then removed from the water. That is right — removed, not just broken down to reform further down the pipes.