Fatbergs: A Waste Management Problem

One of the more difficult challenges facing waste management in water treatment is the removal of fat aggregations or fatbergs. Fatbergs are congealed lumps of fat that come from a variety of sources which then bind to other wastes that do not degrade in water such as sanitary napkins, wet wipes, condoms, and diapers to name a few. Understandably, this mass of “undissolvable” solids results in sewer congestions and clogs that can cost municipal wastewater treatment plants millions of dollars to remove.

In an effort to get the community involved in waste management and prevent the formation of fatbergs, a new program was launched by the City of London, Ontario called the “Your Turn” campaign. This entailed the distribution of biodegradable collection cups for the purpose of segregating the fats from the rest of the refuse. The objective is the proper disposal of kitchen fats, oils, and grease better known as FOG.

From the program’s launch in 2013, there have been some 100,000 paper cups that have been distributed among London’s 381,000 residents. This has amounted to approximately $100,000 of savings annually for the city as part of its drain diversion program.
London, Ontario has been fatberg free ever since.

To help with this effort, the city turned to Montreal-based FluksAqua, an online Q&A forum dedicated to water utility professionals to get feedback and find potential problems or solutions for the program. This helped build awareness about the program among waste management professionals across Canada and the U.S. It was so successful that interest was expressed from as far away as Australia and Japan.

The Your Turn FOG cup collection program has now found new cities for distribution across Ontario such as in Sarnia, Windsor, Sadbury, Oxford County, Middlesex Centre, and Central Elgin. Talks have also been made to expand the program to the provinces of Alberta and New Brunswick.

“Water professionals regularly discuss their frustration at the expense, environmental damage and safety issues of maintenance personnel caused by fatbergs on our forum,” said Dr. Hubert Colas, President Americas, FluksAqua. “With easy access to Your Turn cups through our campaign, we’re hoping municipal water professionals will sign up to bring cups to their communities and residents will use the Your Turn cups to keep FOG out of the water system.”

Another province that has shown interest in the campaign is British Columbia, which has also been actively trying to fight the fatberg problem through public awareness ads. The city of Vancouver claims that it spends about $2 million every year to remove FOG from the sewer systems.

In the U.S., FluksAqua ran a survey of 1000 households during the Thanksgiving holiday to see how many people were responsibly disposing of FOGs and other fatberg contributors. The survey discovered that approximately 80% adequately disposed of FOG during Thanksgiving by segregating it in a separate container while the other 20% disposed of FOGs through the drain or the toilet.

This survey comes off an incident in Baltimore where a sewer overflow was responsible for displacing 4,542 m3 of sewage into Jones Falls as a result of fatberg build-up. Incidentally, the city of New York reported that approximately 71% of sewer backup issues were fatberg related.

The Your Turn program has been successful in effectively reducing the incidence of fatberg aggregation in the sewer systems of a number of cities. It all goes to show that it takes a village to remedy an expensive and environmentally damaging problem.

If you are a municipality in Ontario and in need of a biosolids management solution, please feel free to contact us at 1 (877) 479-1388.

Fatbergs: A Waste Management Problem
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