Science & Technology

Fatbergs – Don’t Dump Your Oils Down the Sink

Don’t dump your oils down the sink, people!

Among the many work-related horror stories told to me by my father (he worked in the wastewater treatment industry for many years), a couple of them really stuck with me. He once told me how massive pumps and motors often stop working because of clumps of dental floss that end up getting tangled in the moving parts, causing them to jam. The lesson? Don’t flush your used floss down the toilet.

The most terrifying tale of all, however, is the one of the Fatberg. If this is the first time you’ve heard of a Fatberg, don’t worry, I’ll bring you up to speed. Actually, do worry, because this is probably going to spoil your appetite.

Lurking deep in the channels of your local sewer system, lies a great big mass of congealed fats, oils, and greases (FOGs) commonly referred to as a Fatberg. These masses accumulate when the fats calcify and harden up, causing even more FOGs to attach and build up. Even worse, these ‘bergs can harbour other waste, such as wet wipes, condoms (ugh), needles (double ugh), dead pet fishes (aw), and anything else that can be flushed down a toilet. The scariest part is that certain types of bacteria thrive in these environments, and have become resistant to antibiotics as well.

Unfortunately, these big nasty bunches of trash can block sewers and cause them to overflow. Since they become as solid as concrete, removing them is a painstaking process which often takes several weeks.

The most recent one found – a 64 metre long giant in Sidmouth, England – will take a reported eight weeks to clear up. For comparison, that’s longer than a Boeing 747. In 2017, the largest Fatberg ever recorded was found in an east London sewer. It was 250 metres long, weighed about 130 metric tons and took nine weeks to fully remove. This Fatberg even created so much buzz in the news that a piece of it was kept and displayed at the Museum of London, attracting more visitors.

Fatbergs have become increasingly common, one likely reason is misleading advertising on consumer products. Many sanitary products claim that they are ‘flushable’, when in fact, they’re not. I mean, just because you can flush your AirPods down the toilet, doesn’t mean you should (no matter how much ‘clout’ that gets you).

Lesson? Don’t pour your FOGs down the drain, and don’t flush anything weird! Let your FOGs cool and solidify, then scrape them into a green bin. Let’s eliminate Fatbergs, one wet wipe at a time!

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