Fatbergs feeding off London food outlets

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A staggering 92 per cent of restaurants, takeaways and other London food establishments surveyed are “feeding the fatberg”, Thames Water has revealed.


Visits to more than 700 outlets across the capital found almost all were failing to prevent fat, oil, grease and food scraps entering the sewer network, where it congeals with wet wipes and other unflushables to cause blockages.


None of the food outlets visited in Whitechapel Road, home to the biggest ever 130 tonne monster fatberg still being shovelled and sucked from the sewer, had a working grease trap to filter and capture fat and oil washed down the plughole.


Experienced Thames Water engineers were shocked to discover so few of the food outlets across London – and the Thames Valley – had the right equipment and maintenance plans in place.


Sewer network manager, Stephen Pattenden, said: “We’ve always known food outlets play a huge role in contributing to fatbergs but it was really surprising to find just how few are doing the right thing when it comes to managing fats, oils, greases and food waste from their kitchens.


“We’re not suggesting anyone intentionally pours the contents of a fat fryer down the drain, but it’s more about the gunk that comes from dirty plates, pots and pans. A simple, well maintained grease trap will capture that stuff and stop it entering the sewer and turning into a monster fatberg – like the ones found in Whitechapel and Chinatown recently. Sadly, most of the businesses we speak to don’t even know about them.”


Engineers arrive unannounced on the visits to food outlets, which include schools, hospitals and care homes, to look at what’s in place to capture fat, oil, grease and food waste. In most cases, where there is nothing, free advice packs – including posters for display near sinks and drains – are handed out.


Outlets identified as needing improvement are then visited again a few months later, and this continues until they take the necessary fat-trapping action, with the prospect of prosecution if they fail to make the changes and continue to allow fats, oils and greases into the sewer.


Mr Suraj, who runs the Royal Nepalese restaurant in Blackheath, has recently installed a grease trap following a Thames Water visit. He said: “We used to get blockages in the pipe due to fat and this would sometimes give off a bad smell, which isn’t very nice for our customers or staff. Since we’ve changed how we dispose of oil and fat we don’t have this problem, so we’re glad Thames Water visited.”


Thames Water’s Stephen Pattenden added: “We’ve been welcomed with open arms by many food outlets who regularly spend hundreds of pounds clearing internal blockages. They were delighted when our experts told them how to prevent it. We need to help more take action though, plus continue in our bid to get our domestic customers to change bad habits when it comes to disposing of fat and items like wipes, cotton buds and sanitary products. Everyone needs to do their bit in this fight against fatbergs.”


In the last 12 months Thames Water has written to almost 600,000 homes in its area with information on the ‘Bin it – don’t block it’ campaign in a bid to encourage customers not to put fat down their kitchen sinks or wipes down the toilet.


In the ongoing battle with fatbergs, the company is also funding a PhD student to look at the sources of fat, its impact on sewers and treatment sites, and what alternatives there are for disposing of it, as well as the ways to best use it as a source of renewable energy as part of a target to self-generate a third of its own power by 2020. Early modelling supported Thames Water’s belief that food outlets are the biggest contributors to fatbergs, which led to the formation of the specialist team who now visit dozens of outlets each week.