There is a real push nowadays for businesses to be environmentally friendly. This might involve increasing recycling efforts, minimising food waste, encouraging colleagues to walk to work or even switching to green electricity (available from kinex!) These are all simple initiatives that can see quick results and have a real impact.
Sometimes, however, sustainable efforts can fall victim to ‘out of sight out of mind’ and a simple flush or tip down the drain can lead to costly consequences. Enter fatbergs – the troublesome masses blocking up our sewers just like the 64 metre beast found in Sidmouth Devon at the start of 2019, as reported in The Guardian.
What is a fatberg?
In case you have not come across the term already, a fatberg is a large clumpy, accumulated mass consisting of grease, oils, fat, wet wipes, and personal hygiene products. It is mostly made out of non-biodegradable products. When hot oils or fats are washed down the pipes and meet with wet wipes that have been flushed down the toilet, they solidify and a ‘mini-fatberg’ is formed. These then gradually snowball into the large masses that hit the headlines.
The Sidmouth 64m fatberg was longer than 6 double-decker buses and needed up to 8 weeks to clear up. Whitechapel’s ‘monster fatberg’ found in 2017 was 250m long and was estimated to weigh 130 tonnes, the same as 19 African elephants.
How do fatbergs affect me?
Fatbergs cause blockages and sewer flooding, which can be costly for businesses in clean up bills, repairs, temporary closure or insurance costs. Not only that, autopsies have discovered that fatbergs can contain infectious bacteria including listeria, campylobacter and E coli which pose a risk to public health in the event of a blockage causing a flood.
It is thought that the UK spends about £100m every year clearing 300,000 fatbergs. As a business owner, it is a legal requirement for your business to dispose of its waste correctly and failure to do so could mean these costs are then put on to you. Under Section 111 of the Water Industry Act (1991), it is a criminal offence to discharge any matter into a public sewer which interferes with the free flow of wastewater. You could be charged by water wholesalers for the costs of removing blockages, cleaning sewers and investigating or remedying flooding – this could be in the form of a substantial fine or even imprisonment. In October 2016, a restaurant in Codsall near Wolverhampton was prosecuted by Severn Trent Water under section 111 and was fined just over £5,000. Could your business afford such a hit?
Introducing… Fine to Flush
The Water UK Team, a board that sets out policy topics and strategic direction for water in the UK, has published a new official standard for manufacturers of wipes. The ‘Fine To Flush’ symbol will be printed on wipes packaging only if they pass specific tests and helps identify that the product will break down in the sewer when disposed of. Although some wipes show on their packaging that they are flushable, they tend not to break down quickly enough.
Do your bit in the fight against fatbergs
So, how do you do your bit in your business and become a fatberg fighter? Some great advice from South West Water’s director of wastewater, Andrew Roantree, at the time of the Sidmouth fatberg was – ‘Put your pipes on a diet and don’t feed the fatberg.’ Make this your mantra.
Here’s some advice on how to stop feeding those fatbergs:
- Collect it – Businesses who use a lot of fat, oil and grease (FOG), such as those in the hospitality sector, are likely to need to use a grease trap. The device will separate FOG and allow clear water to drain away. You may need to arrange for this then to be collected by an external company – ensure you get a Waste Transfer Note. On a smaller scale, instead of pouring FOG down the sink, collect them in a gunk pot (this is good practice for at home as well). There are branded products available, however, you can easily make your own using empty containers. Simply wait for the grease to cool, remove the grease from the pot or plate into the gunk pot. When the pot is full, wipe the contents up and dispose of it or dispose of the container. For a comprehensive guide on FOG removal, download the guide from WWT here.
- Knowledge is power – It’s important that staff are trained on the importance of keeping FOG out of drains and sewers. Ensure that staff are also trained to effectively scrape leftovers into your waste bins before washing plates. You could even encourage them to wipe away liquid food with blue roll before putting them in the sink. Your sinks should also have a strainer to collect any remnants that are missed.
- Is it fine to flush? – Look out for the ‘Fine to Flush’ logo for any wipes you use. Even though some may say ‘flushable’, they are likely to contain plastic which will not break down.
- Know your Ps – Now time for the unsavoury bit. Remember that it’s only the 3Ps that are flushable, that’s pee, poo and paper. Ensure that the ‘nasties’, as one of our water wholesalers Thames Water call them, (wipes, plastics, cotton wool, etc) are binned rather than flushed. Have you considered putting up reminders for your customers in your business?
By implementing a few simple steps, you can do your bit to prevent future fatbergs and protect our sewers from future blockages. Are you ready to join the fight?
Are you looking for a new provider of Business Water? Speak to us today on 0161 465 6665 or visit here to find out more about our water and wastewater services as a leading supplier to the small business market.