WWT Wastewater Conference: managing FOG in the UK

WWT Wastewater Conference

In multiple occasions, speakers at the WWT Wastewater Conference & Exhibition 2020 stressed the existence of over 500,000 km of sewer pipes running underneath houses, schools, restaurants and all sorts of buildings in the UK. And for the first segment, speakers that took the stage made sure to remind us that our sewer networks are being constantly threatened by the mistreatment of used fat, oil and grease (FOG).

Panellist and British Water chief executive, Lila Thompson spoke about the association’s cross-sector initiative. Since 2010, the FOGWISE has been working to get the whole industry to collaborate in tackling this problem. “We’d love to work together!” she encouraged.

Later this year, British Water will publish an updated version of its Food Service Industry Code of Practice, originally launched in 2014. Thompson emphasised the importance of helping food service establishments (FSEs) understand the correct way to deal with their FOG.

“Especially in small FSEs, where there’s a high turnover,” she added, it’s crucial to create effective systems for quick and comprehensive staff training.

What do the FSEs have to say?

In 2015, McDonald’s realised it had a FOG problem so they took the proactive route and went after the utilities for help.

The company started testing options to solve the situation: for 18 months, six restaurants adopted either grease control devices, biological dosing, and annual tertiary treatment. At the end of this period, 16 tonnes of FOG had been retrieved from those six restaurants alone.

“Up until 2015, McDonald’s thought we were doing great in FOG,” David Holden, the company’s building services manager for UK and Ireland, admitted.

After the tests, McDonald’s went to its franchisees to tell them something should be done, and that was when things got complicated. Holden explained: “Every time I have to talk to a franchisee, the first thing they ask is, ‘Do I have to do this? Is this in the law?'”

Even though the answer was “no,” the company ended up persuading its UK businesses to adopt a FOG control programme. Changing their cost expenditure from reactive to proactive.

In 2015, 90% of McDonald’s FOG-related money was spent reactively. “I’m proud to say that 90% of our spendings today is proactive, not dealing with blockages,” Holden declared.

What about a new regulation?

McDonald’s are not the only ones dissatisfied by the lack of official guidelines regarding FOG control. Stephen Williams, network protection enforcement officer at Southern Water, used his time to point out where the current regulatory system could be updated.

He observed, for example, that Section 111 of the Water Industry Act 1991 “is great, but it’s extremely reactive” since it chases polluters after the fact instead of trying to prevent the pollution to happen in the first place.

Then there’s Building Regulations Document H1, Section 2.21 which says: “Drainage serving kitchens in commercial hot food premises should be fitted with a grease separator.” Despite the proactive approach, the fact that there is a “should” and not a “shall” opens the norm to interpretations.

“We are being criticised because of blockages and flooding, but if there were more regulations for FSEs to fit GTEs [grease trap equipment], the blockages would go down, the flooding would go down,” Williams remarked.

A new, smart way to deal with FOG

In common, all speakers at the WWT Wastewater Conference’s FOG panel agreed that the UK needs to pay more attention to what happens when fats, oils and grease are poured down the pipes and prevent this from occurring in the first place.

And even though clearer regulation might come at some point, we can’t sit and wait for it — something has to be done now.

Participating as an exhibitor, SwiftComply had the opportunity to talk to several attendees that understood the need for a proactive and smart approach.

By focusing on educating FSEs, we can stop the pollution from happening instead of fixing its disruptions afterwards. The FSEs seem to agree. David Holden, from McDonald’s, cautioned on stage that “the best approach is always the carrot and not the stick.”

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