These Huge, Disgusting 'Fatbergs' Are Why You Need To Stop Pouring Cooking Oil Down The Drain

Giant blobs of trash and fat are clogging up sewers all over the world. Ew.

August 18, 2017
a man holds a fatberg
ADRIAN DENNIS/Getty

We've all heard about the dangers of melting icebergs and glaciers—but fatbergs? Fatbergs are something new. And, much, much grosser. 

A fatberg is exactly as disgusting as it sounds—it's the result of cooking fat being poured down someone's drain and meeting with objects in the sewer to meld together and solidify into a floating mass. They can be made up of fat, oil, grease, and anything else you might flush that you probably shouldn't, like Wet Wipes, cotton balls, tissues, or paper towels, and even tampons or condoms. (Yes, this is getting worse by the minute.) 

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Fatbergs are becoming more common, and now they even have their own Wikipedia page. Before we knew about fatbergs, we thought we only had to worry about Stephen King's clown-demon IT haunting the sewers, but this somehow seems worse. 

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Fatbergs on the rise 

It's no surprise that the U.S. and the U.K. have the most fatbergs, due to both producing a lot of "fatberg ingredients" (ie; grease and waste) as well as aging sewer systems not equipped to handle everything being put down the drain. London produces between 32 and 44 million liters of used cooking oil annually, for example. And all of that fat has to go somewhere, which often ends up being down the drain, and into a fatberg: London had one double-decker bus sized fatberg that weighed 10 tons break the sewer pipes around it in 2015. 

National Geographic reports that London, Belfast, Denver, and Melbourne have all discovered large fatbergs recently, that New York City has "spent $18 million over five years fighting fatbergs" and grease which causes 71% of their sewer backups, and that even even Ft. Wayne, Indiana, has "spent half a million dollars a year cleaning grease out of sewers."

Related: I Tried To Eliminate All My Food Waste For A Month—Here’s What I Learned

 

So how do we stop the fatbergs?

There are already multiple layers of efforts in place, from government-mandated grease traps for restaurants to clean out their own fat and grease, to utility team cleanup crews, to illegal stealing of the cooking oil for fuel, which the New Yorker reported on a few years back. 

To help prevent the growth of fatbergs (and to prevent sewage from backing up into your streets due to blockage—ew) stop putting your cooking oil down the drain. It's not worth it. It can clog your sink if it congeals in the pipes, and will likely clog your sewers (leading to your toilet backing up, or your neighbors' toilet backing up). 

As for the proper way to dispose of your cooking oil: if it will solidify, let it cool and solidify, and then put it in your garbage. If it's liquid, let it cool, then put it in a container that you can seal and toss (like a takeout container) and put it in your garbage. It's that simple. 

On that note, don't put anything down the drain except bodily waste and toilet paper. (You can also buy some of these cushy and eco-friendly toilet paper rolls to be extra helpful to the environment.) Here's a helpful guide to 11 other things you should never flush down the toilet—We'll give you a hint: After cooking oil, Wet Wipes are at the top of the list as a primary culprit, so stop putting them down the drain, too—if you do, you're basically feeding the 'berg. 

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