London, it seems, has some of the oldest, biggest sewers in the world. During the winter holiday season last year, they issued a public health warning urging people to please not pour the fat from their Christmas goose down the sink because the cooled, coagulating fat causes major clogging emergencies. Apparently no one listened (warning: the images in this particular link are truly gross). Londoners literally flushed the goose fat problem down the road, because the Thames Water utility is currently (as of July 30, 2013) dealing with a 15-ton hunk of coagulated fat the size of a bus wreaking stinky havoc in the city’s sewers. The damaged pipes will take weeks to repair. Thames Water supervisor Gordon Hailwood says they removed huge amounts of fat from the system regularly but he’s fairly sure this one is the biggest single fatberg in British history. He was glad they found it when they did. “If we hadn’t discovered it in time,” he says, ” raw sewage could have started spurting out of manholes across the whole of Kingston.” The fat coagulation problem is exacerbated by another item that should never go down the drain – wet wipes.
Simon Evans, the spokesman for Thames Water who coined the term “fatberg,” outlined Thames Water’s plans to open the biggest fat-fueled power station in the world, in Beckton, east of London. Expected to begin generating electricity in 2015, Thames Water will supply about half the fuel, most of it collected from fat traps located in restaurant kitchens. Some of it will come from the sewer fatbergs as well, but it’s more complicated to use that fat because of the wipes and other cotton products that mix in, absorbing and holding the fat. Designed by a company called 20C Limited, the plant will burn the biofuel from the kitchen traps and fatbergs in a two stroke diesel engine similar to one used on large ships. The fat-fueled power station will generate enough energy to power almost 40,000 homes, though about half of that capacity has already been designated to power a sewage plant next door, which under the circumstances seems only fair. And no, the burning fat doesn’t cause pollution or smell terrible.
Meanwhile, Thames Water keeps trying to educate itss fat flushing public about what should go down a drain, and it’s advice that’s good well beyond Britain’s borders. No cloth, cotton, animal fat, or paper other than toilet paper should go down any drain, whether you’re on a public sewer system or have a septic system. Otherwise you could be dealing with a fatberg of your own! Blech!