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What is a fatberg? Sewer problems explained...

  • 2 min read


A fatberg is a blend of the word’s ‘fat’ and ‘iceberg’. They are rock-hard masses of solidified fat.
They form due to a range of regular household activities, like pouring excess cooking grease down the drain for example, where it cools and congeals in the sewer pipes. If cooking oil is regularly poured down our drains, the problem will continue to multiply. 
Personal hygiene products are another prime example of items that can be enmeshed in the lumps of fat as they should not be flushed down the toilet, causing them to continue to increase in size. 
Other bathroom products, like cotton buds, wet wipes and nappies have also been found contributing to the fatberg problem.
Image: Thames Water Co. /Image Gallery
Back in 2017, in Whitechapel, London, Thames Water discovered a 130 ton fatberg, that had formed in the sewers below. It was calculated that it weighed the same as 11 double-decker buses and measured the length of the pitch at London’s Wembley Stadium. It was one of the largest to form in the London sewer system.
A statement from Thames Water said it took an eight person crew, who worked seven-days a week, to clear the blockage. Equipped with high-powered hoses, the workers broke up the fatberg, then transported the remnants off site for recycling.
Blockages caused by wet wipes and cooking fat occur at a rate of roughly eight a week, and Thames Water says it spends about 1 million pounds a month removing them.
There are a number of campaigns to assist the general public in what can and can’t be poured down our sinks.
Think Before You Flush is a public awareness campaign about the problems these items can cause in our marine environment and our wastewater systems if they are flushed. The campaign is operated by An Taisce’s Clean Coasts programme and is supported by Irish Water. The Think Before You Flush campaign invites you to join us in making small changes in your bathroom behaviour like never using the toilet to dispose of wet wipes and other sanitary products.


So what can you do to prevent fatbergs?

  1. Watch what you flush. Human waste and toilet paper only.
  2. Watch what you pour down the sink. Its not the place to dump oils, fats, grease or dairy. After cooking, let them cool off. For fats that will solidify, let them harden in a disposable container, then throw it in the bin. Pour liquid oil back into the container it came in and screw the lid on tight before you dispose of it.
  3. Recycle your cooking oil.Some areas in the UK offer cooking recycling. You can add this cooking oil to your food waste recycling service. Visit recyclenow.com/what-to-do-with/cooking-oil-0 and put in your post code to see if your area has a food waste recycling service.

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