Tuesday, 8 January 2019

The Sidmouth fatberg and plastic pollution: "the wet wipe monster"

There has been a huge amount of media interest in Sidmouth's fatberg: 

The discovery of a monster fatberg, lurking in the depths of Sidmouth, has hit global headlines.

Sidmouth residents blamed for monster fatberg near playground - Devon Live

In the States:
"Fatberg" Blocks Sewers of Southwest England, Official Says | Time
‘Don’t feed the fatberg’: Huge mass blocks English sewer | The Wichita Eagle
'Fatberg' containing wet wipes, oil, fat found in sewer in England - USA Today
‘Don’t feed the fatberg’: Huge mass blocks English sewer - The Washington Post

And beyond:
Sidmouth fatberg - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
English town told: stop feeding 'fatberg' - The Australian
Sidmouth fatberg | News, Videos & Articles - Global News
Massive ′fatberg′ found blocking sewer system in England | News | DW | 08.01.2019

As Cllr Stuart Hughes has pointed out, this is pollution:

Stuart Hughes, a Sidmouth council member who had previously expressed concerns about the town’s sewage pumping station, according to an article in The Sidmouth Herald, received news of the fatberg with concern.

“This isn’t the first time that something like this has happened,” Mr. Hughes said in an email on Tuesday, adding that “the antiquated sewage system and pipes” made this a very worrying find. “Whilst locals and visitors are embracing the issues surrounding use of plastics, they now need to be educated in not pouring fats and oils down the drain,” he said.

Mr. Roantree of South West Water had a similar message. “Put your pipes on a diet,” he said, “and don’t feed the fatberg.”

210-Foot Fatberg Blocks Sewers of English Seaside Town - The New York Times

And along with fats and oils, the main culprit is wet-wipes:

Enormous fatberg discovered in East Devon sewer

PUBLISHED: 00:01 08 January 2019 | UPDATED: 18:19 08 January 2019
Beth Sharp

The fatberg under Sidmouth. Picture: South West Water

A 64-metre pile of hardened fat, oils and wet-wipes has been discovered in a Sidmouth sewer.

A fatberg is formed like a snowball – as wet-wipes get flushed down toilets, fat oils and grease congeal together, gradually forming a hard mass.

South West Water’s director of Wastewater, Andrew Roantree, said: “It shows how this key environmental issue is not just facing the UK’s cities, but right here in our coastal towns. It is the largest discovered in our service history and will take our sewer team around eight weeks to dissect this monster in exceptionally challenging work conditions.

“If you keep just one new year’s resolution this year, let it be to not pour fats, oil or grease down the drain, or flush wet-wipes down the loo. The consequences can be significant - including sewer flooding in your own home. Put your pipes on a diet and don’t feed the fatberg.”

What is less known is that wet wipes are made of plastic:

And they pollute:

As shown graphically last summer: 

Meet Wallace the wet wipe monster - South West Water
A wet wipe monster and giant seagulls have invaded Teignmouth - Devon Live

Wet wipes turn nasty - YouTube

Also from last summer:

Wet wipes could face wipe-out in plastic clean-up

fatbergImage copyrightTHAMES WATER
Image captionWet wipes are a key component of fatbergs - like this giant one that weighed as much as 10 double decker buses

Wet wipes, used for sticky fingers and removing eye make-up, as well as on other parts of the anatomy, could themselves be wiped out over the next couple of decades.
The government says its plan to eliminate plastic waste "includes single use products like wet wipes". The wipes contain non-biodegradable plastic. So manufacturers will either have to develop plastic-free wipes or consumers will have to go without.
Wet wipes are behind 93% of blockages in UK sewers, a key element of the infamous giant obstacles known as fatbergs, according to Water UK, the trade body representing all of the main water and sewerage companies in the country.

Data Pic: Some 93% of blocked UK sewage pipes are caused by wet wipes. 5,453 wet wipes were recovered from a 116 square metre section of the River Thames in April 2018. The global wet wipes market is forecast to hit $20bn in sales by 2021.

That has prompted the government and industry to focus on persuading consumers not to flush them into the waste water system.
"We are continuing to work with manufacturers and retailers of wet wipes to make sure labelling on packaging is clear and people know how to dispose of them properly," a spokesperson for the Department of the Environment (Defra) said.

Media captionA lazy person's guide to cutting plastic from your life

However, Defra says it is also "encouraging innovation so that more and more of these products can be recycled and are working with industry to support the development of alternatives, such as a wet-wipe product that does not contain plastic and can therefore be flushed".

Reality check: What is a fatberg?

Despite the name, fatbergs are actually mainly made up of wet wipes. They account for a startling 93% of the material blocking our sewers according to Water UK, the membership body for water providers.
They collected samples to analyse from blockages in sewers, pumps and wastewater treatment works. Wet wipes - mostly baby wipes, but also those used to remove make up and clean surfaces - made up the vast majority of the material.
Fat, oil and grease only made up 0.5%. The other 7% was made up of a range of other materials including feminine hygiene products, cotton pads and plastic wrappers. Toilet paper made up just 0.01% of the material blocking our pipes and sewers.
Environmental charities including Greenpeace and the Marine Conservation Society say they are not surprised by this high number, since wet wipes are often marketed as "flushable".

The wet-wipe industry has flourished over the last decade with manufacturers offering an ever broader range of wipes, for sensitive skin, babies' bottoms, removing make-up, applying insect repellent, deodorant or sunscreen. However most are made of polyester and other non-biodegradable materials.
One manufacturer, Jeremy Freedman, managing director of Guardpack, has written to his MP to say banning them would be environmentally disastrous.
Mr Freedman told the BBC what he saw as their benefits: "If you go to TGI Friday and Nando's, for example, you'll see our products there. These wipes are biodegradeable, take 3ml of liquid on average. If they weren't able to use these, they would need to wash their hands, using on average one litre of water. They are also widely used in the medical industry and, for people with incontinence and disabled people, these wipes are critical to their lifestyle."
He said many of the wipes he produced were made of 100% biodegradable materials, but warned they were under no circumstances flushable.
Defra is in the process of exploring how changes to the tax system or charges could be used to reduce the amount of single-use plastics wasted.
Prime Minister Theresa May pledged in January to eradicate all "avoidable plastic waste" by 2042. The government has also said it will consult over whether or not to ban plastic straws, cotton buds and drink stirrers.

Wet wipes could face wipe-out in plastic clean-up - BBC News

No comments: