Fighting the fatbergs

February 15, 2019

As a number of its customers – including Thames Water and Wessex Water – work to combat the scourge of fatbergs, leading supplier of chemical dosing systems to water industry WES Ltd asks what more can be done?

In 2017 a monster was found residing in the heart of London. Weighing 130 tonnes and estimated to be 250 meters in length, a fatberg – an agglomeration of hardened fat, oil and wet-wipes – was blocking a sewer in Whitechapel and could have caused raw sewage to flood the streets had it not been discovered during a routine inspection. Removing the fatberg took Thames Water employees more than two months to complete, with the final section having to be hacked out with shovels.

The Whitechapel fatberg was not an isolated case; Thames Water estimates that is spends £1 million a month clearing blockages from its 68,000 miles of sewers.

The cause of the vast majority of these blockages is a widespread and seemingly innocuous product—wet wipes. Just a single wipe, caught on a root, can snowball over time into a fatberg. The problem is exacerbated by an ageing sewer system and is even worse in areas where large amounts of cooking oil are also poured down the drains.

The solution to this problem seems obvious; consumers must stop flushing these wipes down their toilets. Accordingly, efforts have been made to increase awareness among the general public of the problems associated with the improper disposal of wet wipes.  For its part, Thames Water has launched its Bin it – Don’t Block It campaign, while wipes trade bodies such as the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry (INDA) and EDANA have stipulated that member companies selling non-flushable wipes must display a ‘Do Not Flush’ symbol prominently on packaging.

Pilot programmes conducted by INDA together with wastewater organizations have shown that consumer awareness campaigns such as these can reduce the incorrect disposal of wipes by about 50%. This is positive but, quite literally, it only solves half of the problem.

Another obvious solution is to develop wipes that can be flushed, but who decides what constitutes a flushable wipe? A recent investigation found that all wet wipes sold as ‘flushable’ in the UK fail the water industry’s disintegration tests. In 2017, the government asked the manufacturers and water companies to agree a flushable standard, but these efforts have so far failed.

A ban on the sale of wet wipes has been mooted, but this was met with public outcry. Further, the global consumer wipes market is worth something like $11 billion a year and manufactures are unlikely to take any threat to this business lying down.

The long-term solution to the problem of fatbergs must be in increasing consumer awareness of the problem – ensuring that wipes are disposed of properly and that demand is created for truly flushable wipes – possibly coupled with the renovation, or redesign, of our aging sewers. In the meantime, the water industry continues to work hard to develop innovative solutions to clean-up the mess.

Share this article

Give WES A Call

General Enquiries

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. By clicking Accept, you consent to store on your device all technologies described in our Privacy Policy.

Les Bunce

Hire Business Manager

Les Bunce is Hire Business Manager. He leads the WES Hire Business responsible for managing the supply of our Temporary Chemical Dosing hire fleet on both a planned and emergency basis. Les has over 25 years’ experience in the hire industry and fully understands our customers’ hire requirements.

Patrick Fisher

Projects Director

Patrick Fisher is Projects Director. He leads the business stream responsible for project management, design, engineering, manufacture and delivery of “Capital project” chemical dosing systems. A degree qualified engineer with over 10 years’ experience working in fluid delivery solutions to the water, general industrial, petrochemical, and food & beverage industries.

Bob Cook

Senior Proposals Manager

Bob Cook is Senior Proposals Manager. After completing a traditional engineering apprenticeship at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Bob was one of the original partners who started the business in 1986. Bob now applies his considerable experience to developing proposals & solutions to meet customer requirements, as well as providing technical support & passing on knowledge & expertise to colleagues across the wider WES business.

Ian Price

Dosing Products Business Manager

Ian Price is WES Dosing Products Business Manager, leading the business stream responsible for delivering a wide range of standardised chemical dosing packages, ad-hoc dosing needs and ‘off the shelf’ dosing products & solutions. A mechanical engineer with over 20 years’ experience in fluid handling solutions into the water, petrochemical, pharmaceutical and food & beverage markets.

Jamie Cole

Operations Director

Jamie Cole is Operations Director. Jamie joined the business in 2018 bringing career long experience in a variety of operational roles – including service delivery to the property and utilities sectors. Jamie is responsible for the management of all operational activities of the business including the repair, maintenance & refurbishment business stream, and our site installation and workshop manufacturing teams. Jamie also forms part of the senior management team of WES.

Graham Ward

Business Development Director

Graham Ward is Sales and Marketing Director. His extensive experience includes a number of senior roles working for various SMEs and large organisations in the water, power generation, petrochemical, marine and food & beverage industries. As a qualified marine engineer, Graham has established his career in Sales and Business Development and is responsible for the business development, marketing and sales of systems, products and services across WES.

Carl Millington

Non-Exec Director

Carl joined WES as Non-Exec chairman following an appointment via the Business Growth Service to assist the business with growth strategy. A highly experienced Business Mentor, Coach, Managing Director & Non-Exec Chairman, having led product, manufacturing, contracting and service provider businesses for nearly 30 years. A strong track record of market, sales and profit growth within a diverse range of sectors.

Core competencies include business growth strategies, board & business leadership, strategic planning, sales & marketing management, P&L & balance sheet management, acquisitions, divestments, outsourcing, TUPE transfer, mentoring & coaching.

Kevin Wheeler

Managing Director

Kevin Wheeler is Managing Director. Kevin trained as an Engineer at the Royal Aircraft Establishment and joined the business in 1989. Kevin now leads the Board of Directors setting strategy and defining priorities to meet the business objectives & growth aspirations whilst adding experience to technical issues where required.