The Rise of the Fatberg
In 2015 'Fatberg' made its way into the Oxford English dictionary, just two years after it made headlines in London. If you aren't familiar with the term, it is pretty self-explanatory, in that it's a combination of 'Fat' and 'Berg'. Initially, the story of a massive body of waste, mostly held together by fat was greeted as ridiculous and humorous. Since the beginning of 2010, the problem has grown to be more severe and much more common.
At Re-Gen, we want to address recycling issues and believe that as well as technical solutions, education is vital. Read more to learn about the adverse effects of ill-thought waste disposal.
The rise of the fatberg.
When Thames Water staff went to investigate a blockage issue in 2013, they were greeted by a 250-metre body of waste, weighing an incredible 130 tonnes. To put that in perspective, it's longer than the London Bridge and as heavy as a blue whale. When council staff were greeted by the vast body of rubbish, they recorded it, and the videos hit screens across the UK.
People were shocked by the volume of waste, but a council spokesman pointed out that the public need to be more considerate regarding waste.
Immediately, eight council staff were put to work breaking down the massive volume of waste which was described as '... basically like trying to break up concrete'. Staff also lamented the source of the issue, stating 'these situations are totally avoidable', something that is true.
So, what caused this massive waste pile up?
Fatbergs are a direct consequence of lazy or uninformed waste disposal. As mentioned, they are avoidable, but in reality, the problem is expanding. A few months after the original fatberg was reported in the press, another was found in London which was even more significant. Again, it was in a commercial area and more resources were devoted to cleaning it.
The fatbergs are primarily made up of oil poured down sinks, wet wipes, nappies and other rubbish flushed down a toilet. Naturally, when the oil cools, it begins to solidify, and it can stick to other objects. In London, the Victorian sewage system was being abused by those who weren't disposing of waste properly. As the drains filled with hardened oil, more and more objects were being compressed and drains are blocked.
The dangers of poor disposal.
Fatbergs come at a considerable cost to the public purse and the environment. The busiest councils in the UK spend up to £1m per month clearing damaged drains. NI Water have admitted they spent millions each year on the problem. Since the beginning of 2010, the problem has gotten worse, and the government has been trying to spread its 'bin it, don't block it' message. They have even pointed out, that while businesses are part of the problem, the majority of blockages are caused by domestic waste.
Environmentalists have concerns about exposed sewage in that waste will be rerouted to green areas accidentally. When domestic oils get into the water, they lower oxygen levels and can it can kill wildlife. Large amounts of oil can even do long-term damage to green areas, sullying soil and visibly destroying grass.
Unlike some eco-problems, the solution to this problem is straightforward. Oil should never be poured down sinks, toilets or drains around the home. Transfer oil to a container and allow it to harden before binning it, cooling it in a fridge or freezer will speed up this process. Alternatively, collect oil in a larger container and take it your nearest recycling centre where it may be ‘put to use’ once more. By keeping it separate from other waste types, waste companies like ourselves can recover even more from rubbish.
Only tissue paper should be placed in your toilet for flushing; wet wipes, nappies and other materials should be placed in the bin. As well as doing damage to the external drainage, you also risk a domestic flood or damaging drainage.