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What are Fatbergs?

What are Fatbergs? Why we need to be careful with what we flush!

When we all flush the toilet or pour liquids down our drains, it is passed into the sewerage system. However, sometimes we dispose of the wrong waste, clogging our drains. For example, you may have noticed signs in public toilets that remind you to only flush toilet paper, however, some people do not abide by these rules. The consequences to our drains and the sewerage system are severe and can cause a mass to develop called a fatberg. Today we will focus on what fatbergs are and why we need to be careful with what we put down our drains.


What are Fatbergs?

A fatberg is a stiffened mass of grease and non-biodegradable matter found in drains and sewers. They develop gradually due to disposing household items such as cooking oil into the drains instead of disposing them correctly into the bin. The Fatberg can become so strong that it’s stronger than concrete and may require special equipment to remove them from sewers and drains.


Why we need to be careful with what we flush away

We need to be careful with what we flush because of the consequence’s fatbergs cause damaging effects.


Some fatbergs are so large that specialised equipment may need to be used to remove them. One of the biggest fatbergs to be discovered was in London in 2017. It was 250 meters long and weighed 130 tonnes. To compare, that’s the same weight as 11 double-decker buses and the same length as two Wembley football pitches.


There are a few processes to remove fatbergs from our drains. One way would be breaking down the fatberg by using jetting pressure of 4,000 psi so that it’s easier and safer to extract. Another way of removing fatberg is extracting the liquid that is contained inside the fatberg into a combination tanker. Surprisingly, another way is to recycle the fatberg, as they can be a source of fuel. The oil from fatbergs can be reprocessed with other chemicals to form biodiesel or biogas. Finally, after the chosen process, an aftercare service needs to be delivered to prevent the reformation.


We can see that the process of extracting fatbergs is time-consuming and costly which is why we need to be careful with what we flush. There are 300,000 sewage blockages each year, and this can be costly. It costs around £100 million to clear up, all because we forget to dispose of our waste correctly.


What we should be flushing down toilets

We need to be mindful of what we’re flushing down our toilets to make sure our pipes and sewerage systems are working correctly. Here are four things you should never put down your drains.


  1. Cooking oil  – Even though cooking oil is a liquid, we should never dispose of this down our drains. Oil and grease are the common components that contribute to blocked drains and sewerage systems. The right way to dispose of oil is to let it cool, put it into a container, and put it into the bin.
  2. Paper towels and wet wipes – They are not the same as toilet paper, as they are thicker and will struggle to move down our drains correctly. The right way to dispose of paper towels and wet wipes is to put them into the bin.
  3. Starchy food – Fatbergs contain non-biodegradable materials so the starch in the foods can hold the materials together and cause blockage. Starchy foods such as rice or spaghetti should be disposed of in the bin.
  4. Coffee grounds or eggshells – We may have a misconception that these foods can break down in our drains, but that is not the case. We should dispose of these products in our bin.


Huge fatbergs formed under London
The 130-ton fatberg formed underneath London’s Whitechapel area is among the largest on record. The rock-solid mass is composed of cooking fat and wet wipes.


Overall, we can see the damaging effects of fatbergs on our drains and sewerage systems. A fatberg may not affect your drains instantly. However, it can build up over time, collecting more debris and eventually blocking your drains completely. If you believe you have a fatberg in your drain, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team. Our drainage equipment allows us to look inside your drains to locate any problems without needing to dig up anything! Contact us on 0800 043 0458 or email us at info@ghps.uk with any questions and queries you may have.


If you want to learn more about fatbergs, we highly recommend this documentary by Channel 4:

‘Fatberg Autopsy: Secrets of the Sewers’