Fatbergs are having a major moment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s not good. COVID-19 has altered most aspects of our daily lives—from how we work, shop, exercise, socialize and eat. The pandemic has also created toilet paper shortages across the globe, which has led to a sudden spike in fatbergs in sewer lines.
Fatbergs in Sewer Lines
Fatbergs occur in sewer lines when non-biodegradable material (i.e. flushable wipes) mixes with cooking fats, oils and grease to form large clumps that are as hard as concrete and quickly grow to block sewer lines. Once a sewer line is blocked, the wastewater and flushed material flows back into homes, neighborhoods and the environment through sewer overflows. With people unable to purchase toilet paper, many have been resorting to flushable wipes, which are marketed as flushable but they really aren’t. Many flushable wipes are made up of 90% plastic material, which can’t break down like traditional toilet paper. Flushable wipes along with cooking fats, oils and grease cause major problems for wastewater professionals and water treatment facilities.
Fatbergs are a Global Issue
From Tampa to Melbourne, fatbergs are growing and making the news at an alarming speed.
The City of Tampa would like you to stop clogging its sewer system with ‘fatbergs’
- “According to the city, recently, over a period of three days, ‘a department contractor removed 108 cubic yards of grease and non-flushable wipes’ from the wet well at Sulphur Springs Pump Station.”
Flushable wipes causing “fatbergs” in Carlisle’s sanitary sewer system
- The Public Works Department has been pulling hunks of material, called “fatbergs,” out of sanitary sewer lines since the COVID-19 crisis began. Fatbergs build when non-biodegradable solid matter, such as wet wipes, enters the sewer system and binds with congealed grease and cooking fat.
Fatbergs: Hunter Water warns Newcastle ratepayers to Respect the Throne amid increasing plumbing blockages
- Hunter Water reported on Friday that the past five weeks have forced its crews to tackle the dirty job of removing blockages from pipes more often “as a result of more products like paper towel and wet wipes being flushed in the wake of the toilet paper shortage”.
Giant 42-Tonne Fatberg Removed From Melbourne Sewer
- Yarra Valley Water shared an image of the horrendous buildup of waste that took crews nine hours to dislodge. According to the water company, the fatberg was made up of wet wipes, rags, tissues, paper towels, sanitary products [combined with cooking fats, oils and grease].
Britain faces huge fatbergs blocking sewers as wet wipes and kids’ TOYS flushed down loo in coronavirus lockdown
- It costs the water company a whopping £5 million a year to resolve the 13,000 blockages a year.
Truck-sized ‘fatberg’ found in Wallan
- “If things keep going as they are, over the next six months we’re looking at increased maintenance costs of up to $1.6 million for repairing the damage caused by sewer blockages and fatbergs.”
Sierra Sun: Out of toilet paper? Don’t flush the other stuff.
- Across Utah, backups caused by wipes cost roughly $3 million — and that is before the bigger problems we’re creating right now! In addition to unnecessary expense, sewer overflows can dump thousands of gallons of sewage into streams and creeks or, heaven forbid, back up into your basement.
This is just a snippet of the fatbergs making headlines around the world. From this, we can all see that one thing is clear—we need to be mindful of what we rinse down the sink and flush down the toilet. None of us want to experience a sewer overflow into our home, neighborhood or local environment.