The appearance of new fatbergs around the world might have been one of the least expected consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. As home confinement became the new way of life for millions, households naturally saw a huge increase in cooking at home – seeing more fats, oils and grease (FOG) disposed of into the sewers – and a fear of toilet paper shortage provoking a spike in wet wipes and other unflushables used in its place.
This increase of fatbergs made this year’s Unblocktober even more relevant. Spearheaded by the Lanes Group and supported by SwiftComply, Unblocktober is a campaign that prompts people to pay attention to and act for the health of the sewers by taking small — but meaningful — steps in their daily lives.
As the 2020 edition comes to an end, it is time to reflect upon how we can turn all the learning we’ve accumulated throughout this last month into long-lasting habits.
“We will continue to spread this message far and wide. At SwiftComply, we are advocates for positive change, protecting the environment, our people, wildlife and natural watercourses from the devastating effects of FOG pollution,” says Laura Su, UK Director at SwiftComply.
Your kitchen vs. the fatbergs
The best way to prevent fatbergs is to stop polluting sewers with items that shouldn’t be flushed or poured down the sink. In the kitchen, the main villain is FOG, which comes from several sources, including fat from cooked meats, dairy products, cooking oil, baked goods, butter, margarine, lard, gravy, sauces and salad dressings.
When FOG enters the sewers, it cools and hardens overtime, restricting the flow of wastewater. Combined with non-biodegradable and non-flushable items, we start to see the build-up of fatbergs.
FOG pollution often results in sewer overflows, causing wastewater to back-up and contaminate our streets and rivers, or businesses and homes. In fact, more than 3,000 homes in the UK are flooded yearly because of blockages caused by FOG.
Water utilities currently spend a whopping £90 million every year on clearing FOG blockages across the UK, requiring money that could be used elsewhere or passed back to us in savings. FOG affects the performance of sewer efficiency and wastewater treatment, instead of creating value from customer money, it requires more spending to fix a preventable problem.
This serious issue is preventable if we learn how to dispose of FOG correctly in our kitchens. If we change our habits, not only are we less likely to have to deal with drainage issues at home, but we can become more environmentally friendly and help out our community.
Preventing fatbergs is easy and it starts at home
In the past, many households were taught to wash fat or oil down the sink with hot water and washing up liquid. This is a damaging habit that needs to be broken: once it cools, FOG will solidify and block pipes, resulting in damage and necessary repairs.
So, how can you join us on our mission to fight the fatbergs? These are some of our easy-to-follow tips to keep your drains and sewers flowing freely at a time when they’re already under strain.
- Before washing up plates, pans and kitchen utensils, scrape leftover food into your food bin and wipe off any greasy residue with a paper towel.
- Allow cooking fat to cool down and solidify before recycling with your food waste.
- Reuse large amounts of cooking oil by filtering it before storing in a container.
- Use sink strainers to catch any food scraps and empty them into the bin – crumbs and scraps can accumulate in drains and add to fat deposits.
- If you have a garden, compost your food waste by collecting uncooked fruit and vegetable peelings.
- Use residual lard or suet (but not fat from cooked meat!) and mix in seeds, nuts, dried fruit and other kitchen scraps, before forming into balls to place in your garden for birds and wildlife to eat.