Severn Trent Water is splashing out roughly £1.9 million a year on tackling blocked drains caused by fat and grease flushed down Birmingham drains. In one area of Birmingham alone where there are over 200 food outlets, they are suffering 550 sewer blockages a year. For the water company, grease is definitely the word – and a dirty word, at that.
Now Severn Trent is teaming up with Birmingham City Council to raise awareness of the problem among businesses and householders. Birmingham City Council’s partnership scrutiny committee heard that the poor disposal of fat,oil and grease by restaurants, takeaways, canteens and cafes’ – known as FOG – causes about 80 per cent of all sewer blockages. The sewage pipes become completely caked in greasy residue, causing blocked drains. While many chippies sell the fat from their fryers for fuel, they still throw away litres of the stuff generated through food preparation and cleaning. But Severn Trent says this, too, can be siphoned off and recycled.
Birmingham City Council environmental health officials may now consider waste disposal as part of restaurant inspections, if agreement can be reached. Households flushing anything from cotton buds and nappies to oil and lard down pipes also cause massive problems for neighbours if the sewer becomes blocked downstream.
Environmental health official Mark Croxford said: “It is no fun to find 30 neighbours are flushing their toilets and it’s coming up on your property.” The committee heard that a particular hotspot in Birmingham, north of the city centre, had 209 food service establishments causing 550 sewer blockages a year. Only 45 of them had a grease trap – and all of those were woefully inadequate. Many also had waste disposal units chopping up food, adding to the problem.
Severn Trent said that as a first step they would raise awareness among consumers. But in the longer term they may suggest waste disposal becomes a condition of licences issued by the council. Severn Trent’s Philip Soden said: “This is an opportunity for Severn Trent, the city council and our customers to solve a major problem and gain from a renewable energy source.” He suggested that with the right facility the FOG could be converted into fuel and sold to offset collection costs.