What's a fatberg?

Last reviewed:

Oxford Dictionaries definition - Noun, British: A very large mass of solid waste in a sewerage system, consisting especially of congealed fat and personal hygiene products that have been flushed down toilets.

In September 2017, a new kind of horror lurked in the dark underground tunnels of Whitechapel.

Just one example of a breeding brood of beastly monsters, this Whitechapel giant is the product of our modern lifestyles.

Quietly expanding day after day, the congealed rancid masses of human waste, fat, oil and wet wipes are a uniquely 21st century menace. Capable of breaking the sewage system their threat lies in the ability to wreak sewage havoc in homes and businesses.

Sewers designed only for water, toilet paper and human waste are increasingly used as a rubbish bin. The sewer system simply cannot cope.

As more and more of the wrong stuff gets thrown into the drains, the solid stinking mass builds up. Wipes, condoms, sanitary products and cotton wool, stick to the gluey fatberg and as it grows, less and less waste can pass through the pipe. And if the sewage can’t reach our waste treatment works, it has only one way to go.

Eventually, a fatberg can block a pipe entirely, forcing raw sewage and unflushables back where they came from.

Fatbergs are a menace that everyone should be afraid of. And sadly, we’ve all had a part in creating them.

See for yourself what it’s like to come across a fatberg in a sewer:

The Whitechapel Monster

The famous Whitechapel fatberg of September 2017 was the largest ever found in our sewerage system. For all the wrong reasons it attracted attention from around the globe, with stories on its grossness running across the world’s media.

Thanks to its high media profile over several weeks, a public vote named it Fatty McFatberg.

The sheer scale of Fatty McFatberg was what made it such a gruesome spectacle. More than twice the length of two Wembley football pitches, it weighed-in at a staggering 130 tonnes, the same as 11 double decker buses.

Fatty was blocking a stretch of original Victorian sewer, so spare a moment to imagine what it was like to remove the reeking giant.

Eliminating the fatberg took a team of eight, working every day for several weeks. Using high powered jet hoses, they painstakingly broke up the mass averaging 20 to 30 tonnes on each shift. Then Fatty McFatberg was sucked out by tankers and taken away to be recycled in Stratford.

But a little has been kept as a reminder. A part of Fatty McFatberg is going on display at the Museum of London to represent modern life in the city. The fatberg exhibition runs from 9 February – 1 July 2018 and entry is free.

Meanwhile, there is one simple way we can all make fatbergs extinct: Bin it – don’t block it.

The future of fatbergs

Leading waste to power firm, Argent Energy, has teamed up with us to transform what was once a foul, rancid mass into pure green fuel.

Our plans mean that Fatty McFatberg can be converted into around 10,000 litres of biodiesel. That’s enough to power 350 double-decker Routemaster buses for a day.