In the hot summer of 1858 human waste and effluent littered the banks of the River Thames causing what became known as the Great Stink. Parliament acted and Joseph Bazalgette was commissioned to design and build a sewer network in London. As any good civil engineer would, he created the spec for the sewer and, anticipating growth, doubled the diameter.
What this fore-thoughted designer could not have anticipated was the sheer scale of demand placed on his network of pipes. Fats, Oil and Grease, not to mention wet wipes, were a far-off figment of future imagining. FOG are creating their 21st century version of the Great Stink – only this time it is at least underground (mostly). More than 160 years on and close to 370,000 server blockages are causing environmental and health hazards across the UK and 70% of them are caused by FOG, resulting in huge disruption to foodservice businesses.
So, why does this problem persist when, according to the experts the solutions are really pretty straightforward and there are sizable financial gains to be made by foodservice operators?
To answer these questions we teamed up with Kingspan Water & Energy to host an event this week, bringing together for the first time some of the UK’s biggest and best-known foodservice operators, water companies, large landlords, the waste industry and biofuel companies.
In the run-up to the event we surveyed SRA members on FOG to get an insight on their understanding of the issue and the measures they have in place. A quarter said their knowledge of the subject generally and of the damaging impact of FOG was low. And, despite waste and water industry experts at the event making clear that there is plenty of information out there, that wasn’t the perception of the businesses we surveyed, with only 16% saying they were happy with the level of available information. Encouragingly, 90% are recycling their cooking oil and the majority do have some kind of equipment installed to capture FOG.
To encourage completely candid conversations with all parties, the event was held under Chatham House rules so we can’t identify the names of individuals or their business name. Nonetheless, we can report some of the key messages and how they matter to all operators.
Consider FOG as part of a wider responsible waste strategy.
There’s the potential for a triple win: for foodservice, for transport companies and for energy recyclers – creating a circular economy.
Practical and social benefit
FOG is everyone’s problem – even if you only see it as a problem when your drains are backing up and the customer toilets are blocked. Think of the sewers as the arteries of any town or city. Respect your drains.
There’s gold in that, there muck. Liquid fuel will still form a major part of the fuel mix in 2035 and FOG can provide the biofuel which is 80% cleaner than conventional diesel, to keep the UK’s trucks on the road in two decades.
By ensuring we attach a value to FOG, it becomes less about compliance and more about a commercial product.
Legal and compliance benefit
If a restaurant puts something into the sewer system likely to cause a blockage then it is liable under Section 111 of the Water Industries Act 1991.
There is no ‘standard’ for grease management and there is no legislation governing the installation of grease traps. But with the water industry and others lobbying for a change in the law, and while compliance remains an issue, it’s strongly recommended restaurants install the right grease trap in the right place.
Operators in managed properties would like to see landlords impose a set of standard specifications – in the same way as the government is now proposing for waste collections.
Only good waste management will stop sewers getting blocked.
In the same way as Costa has brought together all links in the supply chain to find a workable way of recycling takeaway coffee cups, there is the potential for collaboration from restaurant to grease trap provider, landlord, water company, transport company and fuel recycler. This event has provided us with the platform to build towards that joint solution to this sticky situation.
If you would like to add your voice to the SRA member FOG survey,