What is a Fatberg?

What is a Fatberg?

Fatbergs are estimated to cost companies nearly £100million each year to tackle the problem. And whilst there is more awareness of the problems fatbergs can cause, they are still causing cities across the world problems so there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to help prevent them. This post will cover some key facts about fatbergs and how they can be prevented.

What is a Fatberg and how are they formed?

You’ve no doubt heard of icebergs, now picture an iceberg made of fat, combined with other non-organic materials plugging up the sewer system! Yep, it’s as gross as it sounds!

Fatbergs are formed when items that shouldn’t enter the drainage system are flushed away or disposed of incorrectly down the sink. Think items such as nappies, wet wipes, cotton pads, sanitary products, used cooking oil and grease which don’t dissolve in the sewer system.

Whilst you might be thinking a cotton pad or wet wipe is pretty much the same as toilet paper, right? You’d be wrong! Because these products don’t break down in the sewer system like toilet paper, over time these products combine and congeal with fat and grease and eventually build up to form what is effectively a coagulated mass of fat. Gross!

What is a Fatberg?

How big can a Fatberg Get?

The size of the fatberg really depends how long is has been left to accumulate. Back in 2017, a 140-ton fatberg was discovered deep in London’s sewer system. It was about the length of two football pitches and as tall as a bus! Even working seven days a week, it took drainage crews over a month to remove it!

As you can imagine, huge blockages like this can be a massive problem for cities and homeowners alike, especially if the blockage causes sewage to back up into your home!

How are Fatbergs Removed?

Whilst you might think a fatberg is a soft mass, over time they can harden and, in some cases, become nearly as hard as concrete, so first the fatberg needs to be broken down into more manageable smaller pieces using a high-pressure water jet.

This broken-down waste is then extracted using a combination tanker. In some cases, a manual excavation may be needed to remove more stubborn fatbergs.

This waste is then transported to a specialist waste management centre where it can be properly disposed of and recycled where possible.

How to Prevent Fatbergs?

The impact a fatberg can have on a sewer system can be severe, so it’s important to understand what can or can’t be flushed down the toilet or disposed of down your drains.

Simply put, the only things you should be flushing down the toilet are faeces, urine and toilet paper, these days many companies are selling flushable wipes, but even these can cause problems, so we’d recommend not flushing those either and disposing of them in the bin. And under no circumstances should you be disposing of used cooking oil, grease, and fat down your sink. While it might seem harmless pouring down the left-over fat from your roast potatoes, if everyone does the same, this can quickly cause a massive problem in your local sewer system.

Here are four items that you should never pour down your drain to help prevent fatbergs…

Paper Kitchen Towels / Wet Wipes

Whilst it might be convenient to flush these away down the toilet from time to time. I mean, once or twice isn’t going to hurt right? These are the main culprits for the formation of a fatberg and have absolutely no place in the sewer system.

As we mentioned above, even if the packaging states they are flushable, our advice would be to dispose of them in the bin.

Cooking Oil / Grease / Fat

Cooking oil combined with wet wipes, equals a fatberg. Used cooking oil should never be put down the drain under any circumstances and should be disposed of appropriately.

Although more appropriate for commercial kitchens and restaurants, the best way to prevent oils and fats entering the drainage system is to install a grease trap that will prevent fats, oil and grease from entering the drains.

Coffee Grounds

Like us, you probably enjoy a cup of coffee from time to time. If you use whole bean coffee you might be wondering if it’s ok to pour the used grounds down the sink. Well, it’s not! These materials do not break down and can combine with the fats, grease and other non-organic items to help form a fatberg, so should always be disposed of in the bin.

Starchy Foods

You probably remember as a kid making a rudimentary glue from flour and water. Starchy foods such as potatoes, bread, rice and spaghetti can act as a binder for a fatberg so should be disposed of in the bin and not down the drain.

Where did the term “fatberg” originate from?

Fatberg is simple a compound of the words “fat” and “iceberg”. The term “fatberg” was used back in 2008 to describe large rock-like lumps of cooking fat that was washing up on beaches in Wales. By 2010 it began being used in reference to sewer-blocking deposits in London.

Final Thoughts

Fatbergs are becoming a growing concern in cities across the world, but especially in large cities like London. It seems every time a new fatberg is discovered, it’s larger than the one before it! So to help prevent the enormous costs of removing these fatbergs, it is essential that your know what causes them and how, with a little common sense, they can be prevented from ever forming in the first place!

As always, the team at Flo-Well are standing by to help with any drainage issues you may be experiencing. If you think you may have a blocked drain in London that is being caused by a fatberg, please don’t hesitate to contact our team and we can help you investigate the problem and provide the most cost-effective solution to get your drains back to full working order.