It’s that time of the year where cities across the globe see a significant increase in fatbergs and subsequent sewer overflows. During the winter months, and especially around the holidays, people are cooking larger meals and then rinsing items they shouldn’t (cooking fats, oils and grease) right down their kitchen sink drain and unknowingly creating a major environmental hazard—fatbergs.
Fatbergs are mounds of congealed cooking fats, oils and grease that collect items such as wet wipes and other non-flushable items that get sent into the sewer network, to form a huge blockages that restrict the flow of raw sewage—thus, sending it back up into homes, neighborhoods and the environment through sewer overflows. These blockages become hard as concrete and frequently have to be removed by hand. The sheer mention of fatbergs will send a chill down any sanitation worker’s spine.
Here are six facts about fatbergs you need to know. The more you know, the more you can work to help prevent them.
Fatbergs can be huge.
To date, London holds the record for the largest fatberg. In 2017, The Beast or Whitechapel Fatberg, as it has become known, weighed in at 143 tons, or 286,000 pounds, and stretched for an astonishing 820 feet, or two and a half football fields. It took crews, operating 24 hours a day, nine weeks to remove, to the tune of several million dollars. (Whisper)
In 2019, a giant fatberg, longer than the Leaning Tower of Pisa, was found lurking under a seaside town in Sidmouth, Devon. It was a 64 meters-long monster that took eight weeks to remove from the sewer.
While these are just two examples of “monster fatbergs” found, a fatberg doesn’t have to be big to cause big issues.
Odd items are often found in fatbergs.
Fatbergs are always made up of the same culprits, cooking fats, oils, grease, wet wipes, tampons and dental floss however, sometimes there can be some very strange items hiding within. Children’s toys, screwdrivers, drink cups and lids, drug paraphernalia, medical containers and eye glasses are just some items that have also been found and leave you scratching your head as to how and why they made it into the sewer network. (Hull Live)
Fatbergs smell terrible.
“A fatberg smells like rotting meat mixed with the odor of a smelly toilet,” said said Alex Saunders, sewer network manager at Thames Water. (BBC)
It’s not easy to remove fatbergs.
Fatbergs are hard to remove and it’s expensive. Most fatbergs must be removed by hand since they are as hard as concrete. A special water jet is used to break the fatberg up into smaller pieces and then those pieces are removed from the pipe by manual excavation and powerful vacuumation tanker units.
Thames Water in London spends over £1m ($1.4 million) a month removing fatbergs from across their network.
New York City spends approximately $20 million annually to clear and repair damage from fatbergs. (Water & Wastes Digest)
A fatberg was put on display in London.
The Museum of London put a piece of the infamous Whitechapel fatberg on display in 2018. The samples that were on display, which were air-dried, looked like clumps of moonscape or a small asteroid. “Lean in and you’ll see a tiny piece of a Double Decker chocolate bar wrapper poking out of one grayish blob. Lean in even closer and you’ll see the small flies that hatched when the samples were in quarantine.” (Washington Post)
You, yes you, can help stop fatbergs.
One simple way to help stop fatbergs from forming is to properly dispose of your cooking fats, oils and grease after cooking a meal. Never rinse them down the kitchen sink drain. Another easy way to make an impact, is to be mindful of what you flush down the toilet.
Grease Hero is a convenient and hassle-free way of disposing of cooking fats, oils and grease after cooking a meal. The environmentally friendly drain guard is made of recycled materials and quickly absorbs the fats, oils and grease that you pour into it directly from your cooking pan. You then simply dispose of the entire drain guard into your trash or upcycle it at your city’s recycling facility. This keeps that harmful fats, oils and grease contaminants out of your plumbing, city sewers and prevents sewer overflows into the environment.
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