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Taking responsibility for drainage: how we can avoid the risk of a Warrington Fatberg

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Earlier this year, Warrington residents were warned of the risk of a fatberg forming beneath the town if care was not taken over waste disposal.

Concern grew after a giant fatberg was removed from sewers in London in 2017, serving as a stark warning of what can happen if we place too much strain on our drainage system. It’s easy to take the sewage network for granted, but sewer collapse can cause disruption and prove to be a public health hazard, so it’s imperative to dispose of waste carefully.

How Do Fatbergs Form?

A fatberg is formed when sewage pipes clog up with fat and solid waste. Congealed masses build up and catch on the pipes, growing larger as more waste collects. This can go undetected for some time, but eventually build-up is great enough that the sewers clog, resulting in sewage spilling up into the street.

All sewage pipes and fittings must be kitemarked and come from British Standards compliant suppliers like EasyMerchant, but no matter how stringent regulations are, sewage pipes are not equipped to deal with anything more than regular sewage – standard toilet waste commonly referred to as ‘the three Ps’. When ‘unflushable’ waste like cooking fats, wet wipes or sanitary products are emptied into the drainage system, there is a risk of a fatberg forming. This must then be removed, often over a period of several weeks, causing significant disruption to the area, and costing around £100 million a year. These costs are covered by residents through sewerage charges, so it is in everyone’s best interest to minimise the risk.

Is Warrington At Risk?

Any urban area is at risk of developing a fatberg if residents are not properly informed about waste disposal. With the increase in consumption of fatty foods and the reliance on single-use plastics, the risk of sewer blockages has increased. The risk is particularly great on high Streets, where there tend to be several takeaway shops and restaurants, each using vast quantities of oil. Warrington has not yet experienced a fatberg problem, but the issue is close at hand: earlier this year, engineers recovered an 84 metre long blockage from a sewer in Liverpool. The fatberg was the largest ever discovered in the northwest, but United Utilities report that the region sees over 25,000 sewer blockages each year. Such blockages are usually caught before a fatberg occurs, but it is possible for buildups to go undetected until it is too late.

Taking Responsibility

In order to prevent pipes from clogging and sewage being forced up into the streets, residents and business owners must dispose of waste responsibly. Water, toilet tissue and human waste are the only items suitable for the sewage system. All other waste should be thrown into the bin, or recycled where possible. Common items found contributing to fatbergs are wet wipes, sanitary products, dental floss and cotton buds, as well as cooking oil, which solidifies inside the pipes, narrowing the space through which sewage can flow. Oils and fats should be cooled and thrown into a bin, and food scraps should be composted or binned. Any solid matter washed down the sink could contribute to the problem. Businesses like takeaway establishments that use large amounts of cooking oil should collect the used oil and arrange for it to be taken away safely.

The UK spends millions of pounds each year cleaning the sewage network of inappropriate items, and in the most extreme cases, fatbergs can form, causing damage and health risks. All communities have a responsibility to dispose of household waste appropriately in order to prevent the problem from occurring.

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