Have you ever wondered what’s lurking beneath the ground you walk on, what’s hiding away? We’ve all heard the statistic that we are never more than 6 feet away from a rat and with the amount of litter being dropped on our streets each year in the UK increasing by a massive 500% since the 1960s (Litterbins.co.uk) there is more to be concerned about then we probably think. Above ground, in the bushes, in the drains, on our streets, our rubbish is collecting; but how did it get there and what is it?
In this article we want to discuss what’s below our feet, in our sewage systems. Out of sight out of mind seems to be a prominent phrase to use here. We generally take our drainage systems for granted, the efficiency and convenience is something we forget about and something a lot of people around the world are not privy to. Severn Trent highlight this point prominently ‘… there are almost two and a half billion people without access to a working toilet. In fact, 844 million people around the world don’t even have a source of clean water close to home.’
Our rubbish or waste has been making it’s way from our homes and the businesses we run or work in, from the toilets in our bathrooms, sinks in our kitchens and the drains on our property in general in to the drains beneath us. But that’s where it’s supposed to go, right? Well, only a fraction of the waste we are putting down there should actually be going down there. Water UK clarifies; ‘Water companies ask that we only flush the 3Ps: Pee, Poo and Paper. Products such as wet wipes, nappies and medical waste do not break down in water the way that toilet paper does.
Such waste can cause huge blockages in our pipes. Blockages can lead to sewer flooding and even pollution into the environment. The plastics in these products can stay in ecosystems for an extremely long time, damaging the environment.’
Not only can it cause blockages, it can make it’s way into our drainage system, collecting and accumulating into a large mass. These congealed masses are building up in sewer systems around the world. They are known as Fatbergs. They are a combination of non-biogradable solid matter, made up of congealed grease, cooking fat and other items such as wet wipes.
Even though fatbergs were identified many years ago it was not until 2010 that the problem escalated in England. Due to the old sewage system and the rise in the usage of disposable flushable cloths, it became apparent that we would need to invest heavily. The general public need to be made aware of this and educated to realise that we all need to do our bit for the environment, that includes our drains. Initiatives such as World Toilet Day encouraged by Severn Trent and articles like ‘5 Tips to Fight the Fatberg’ by Thames Water help to do this.
The largest fatberg recorded was 84 meters and was discovered in a Liverpool Sewer February this year. The Independent put this into perspective- ‘The 84-metre mass is longer than a passenger plane and weighs 90 tonnes – around the same as 13 African elephants.’ United Utilities are dealing with the removal of the fatberg, but they have said it could take eight weeks before removal is complete. Prior to this the notorious Whitechapel Fatberg which weighed around the same as 11 double decker buses was discovered in 2017 and was so well known the public gave it a nickname- Fatty McFatberg.
These fatbergs are a priority problem that must be addressed. They are being discovered all over the country and we need to act now. Our sewage system cannot take the strain of providing housing for these somewhat alien monstrocities.
We all need to take responsibility for how we get rid of our waste. Only biodegradable waste should be flushed down our toilets and into our sewage system. In doing so we will stop any further deterioration of the system and with the repair works being conducted and planned, future generations will have a cleaner system that will last for many years to come.
We need to think about our health and safety. Without action being taken an epidemic could erupt. There is the potential of diseases being spread and people becoming infected by disease, such as Listeria and E-Coli, not to mention the accumulation of toxic gasses and the torrent of human waste that needs to be disposed of. If we continue as is, the cost could run into tens of millions.
So, the next time you are flushing waste down the toilet or sink, consider whether you are feeding the monster that lurks below. Remember, the three P’s; poo, pee & paper.
Think, act, preserve.
Video source: The Guardian
Article written by: Gemma Kingsley, Water Consultant