How to properly and safely dispose of fats, oil and grease
Improper disposal of fats, oil and grease (FOG) is one of the most common causes of the drainage problems we deal with here at Lanes. Blockages in pipes and sewer systems can cause major disruptions and escalating costs for homes and businesses up and down the nation, and more often than not it turns out that FOG is the culprit.
This is not an insignificant problem – FOG can clog up sinks, drains and sewers to the point that they increase the risk of flooding in the local area, while streams and rivers can often end up polluted due to oily cooking waste entering rainwater pipes and gullies. This issue is serious, but it is also preventable, as many of these current FOG-related difficulties could be addressed if more people were educated on how to properly dispose of these substances when preparing food.
By making a few simple changes to day-to-day habits, you could be doing your part to tackle a major environmental nuisance and helping out your local community, while also reducing your own chances of having to deal with damaging and costly drainage problems on your own premises. It’s unquestionably a win-win.
Why is it so important to properly dispose of FOG?
The current prevalence of FOG-related drainage problems comes despite the fact that most people generally understand that tipping fat, oil and food waste down the sink isn’t really something they ought to be doing. The fact that these habits continue to persist anyway perhaps suggests that public awareness of the serious consequences of these actions is not as high as it could be.
Here are a few eye-opening facts to demonstrate why this is a problem that needs to be taken seriously:
- Blockages account for 80% of sewer flooding incidents in the UK, resulting in more than 5,000 properties being flooded each year
- Around 370,000 sewer blockages are recorded nationwide every year, and up to 75% of these incidents are caused directly by FOG
- The cost of reactive blockage clearance work across the UK each year is estimated at around £100 million, with further expenses accrued for clean-up after flooding incidents
- FOG often clumps together with other incorrectly flushed items like sanitary products, nappies, wet wipes and bandages to form huge fatbergs, which can block entire sewers
What’s more, it’s worth bearing in mind that disposing of FOG down the sink is actually illegal, according to several pieces of legislation:
- The Water Industry Act 1991 states that it is a criminal offence to discharge matter into public sewers that may interfere with the flow of wastewater
- The Environmental Protection Act 1990 imposes a duty of care for commercial premises to ensure their waste is managed correctly, while also determining that the smells, effluents and accumulation of refuse due to FOG-related drain blockages can constitute a statutory nuisance
- The Food Safety Act 1990 means that any problems arising from the effect of FOG on drains could result in a violation of Food Hygiene Regulations
As such, washing fat down the sink needs to be seen as more than just an individual issue – it can cause problems for an entire local community, and put food industry businesses at risk of legal issues that could be financially and reputationally harmful.
Common queries and misconceptions
In many cases, bad FOG disposal habits flourish not because of wilful ignorance, but because of a few common misconceptions about how to dispense with these substances without causing a risk of drainage problems.
Here are a few of the most common questions and areas of confusion about FOG disposal:
- How do you dispose of cooking oil and grease? Is it safe to put oil down the toilet?
Most people understand that pouring FOG down a narrow plughole creates a risk of blockages, but fewer are aware that pouring oil directly into a drain or down the toilet is just as risky. Even though these substances flow easily in their hot liquid form, they will solidify when they make contact with the colder water inside the plumbing and sewage system, leading to the development of blockages and fatbergs.
- Can smaller food scrapings be washed down the sink?
It can seem harmless enough to wash a few loose food scrapings down the plughole instead of disposing of them all in the bin, but be aware that even smaller food scraps and crumbs can accumulate in the drains – particularly in U-bends – or clump together with fat deposits that are already in the pipes to add up to a much bigger problem.
- Are food macerators an acceptable solution for disposing of food waste?
Food macerators, which grind up food scraps to allow them to be washed into the drainage system, were once seen as an easy and convenient means of disposing of small chunks of food waste, but it is now understood that they place an extra load on sewerage systems that they were not designed to handle. As such, their use is now illegal in commercial settings, and should be generally avoided.
- Can boiling water be used to dissolve fat and grease in the pipes?
For many, the first course of action when dealing with a blocked drain is to pour boiling water down the plughole to break down the obstacle, but be warned that this does not work with serious FOG blockages that have solidified over a long period. Moreover, if you have a PVC-based piping system, there’s a risk that the high temperatures do more harm to the pipes than to the blockage, so when in doubt, call professional help.
- Can food outlets sell off waste oil for animal feed, or send it to landfill?
It was once the case that catering premises were able to collect their waste cooking oil and sell it as an ingredient for animal feed, but legal changes in 2004 mean that this is now illegal.Moreover, a 2007 law has also prohibited liquid waste from being disposed of at landfill, so commercial businesses need to make themselves aware of the latest rules and recycling methods – such as in biodiesel production – to ensure they are dealing with the FOG the right way.
How to safely dispose of FOG
Despite the seriousness of the problems improper FOG disposal can cause, getting it right is actually a fairly simple process – it’s all about learning the right way of doing things, and making a few easy changes to kitchen habits to make sure that oil and fat never ends up anywhere it doesn’t belong.
- Dispose of food scraps in the bin: the easiest change to make to prevent FOG blockages is to make sure that plates, pans and utensils are scraped clean of solid food waste prior to washing. Be disciplined about brushing even the smallest scraps into the bin, and make sure to wipe down the items with kitchen roll to mop up the oil and grease before running them under the tap.
- Remove waste oil manually and ensure it is disposed of by professionals: larger quantities of waste oil – for example, the liquid left over in pans and trays after cooking – should be collected in a designated container before they have a chance to cool and congeal. Once solidified, it can be emptied into the bin, or better still, sent off to an Environment Agency-licensed waste oil collector – an especially important step for commercial operators who deal with large quantities of waste oil. In many cases, the oil can be recycled for use in biodiesel production, or for incineration to produce electricity.
- Make use of tools like sink strainers, grease traps and enzyme dosing systems: a simple sink strainer can make a huge difference in helping you to ensure that solid food waste is not accidentally washed down your sink. For a more sophisticated solution, special grease traps can be fitted in the drainpipes to separate FOG from the rest of the wastewater, to be removed by a licensed waste oil collector at regular intervals; additionally, special enzyme dosing systems can be purchased to break down residues that are already in the drains where necessary.
- Get everyone on board with proper FOG disposal methods: any efforts to reduce your risk of oily drain blockages are going to be undermined if you’re the only person committed to them. For regular households, that means getting everyone in the home on board with the new rules for washing up; for employers, it means providing specific training for all member of staff, explaining why the changes are so important, and the potential costs and risks to the business of continuing to get it wrong.
- Call in the experts when you need help: responsible waste disposal can sometimes depend on external assistance to get your infrastructure right, or to deal with problems that already exist. Premises looking to fit a grease trap may want to consult an environmental health officer for advice on optimal placement, while those whose systems are already clogged by FOG may need to call in drainage professionals to clear the existing issues before making a fresh start with new habits.
How can Lanes help?
As the UK’s biggest privately owned specialist drainage contractor, Lanes can deliver an unparalleled service when it comes to removing FOG from drains and sewers. We use state-of-the-art jetting technology to dislodge FOG residues and break them down into removable chunks, which we will then transport to registered waste disposal sites, while also taking responsibility for the completion of the associated legal documentation.
Our level of expertise is such that we’re even equipped to deal with excavating huge fatbergs from the UK’s sewer system – in fact, we worked with Thames Water in 2017 to remove the infamous Whitechapel fatberg, a gigantic 130-tonne mass measuring 250 metres in length, which took a total of nine weeks to excavate. It was the biggest fatberg ever discovered, and it vividly demonstrates that there really is no job too big for us to handle!
Additionally, we can offer advice on selecting the right grease traps for your property, as well as competitively-priced contracts for the regular maintenance and cleaning of grease traps, so if you have any inquiries at all about our FOG disposal services, then give us a call on 0800 526 488, or use our online enquiry form.