Keeping Birmingham’s Sewers Free of Fat

Research by the Institute of Civil Engineers has found that over a third of people pour fats down the drain at least some of the time. Around 40% of people are unaware of the fatbergs that can result from the build up of these fats and other non-biodegradable matter flushed down the toilet or sink. In Birmingham, Victorian engineers were responsible not only for creating a canal network larger than the one in Venice, but also one of the largest and most complex sewer systems in the UK. Unfortunately, despite being an outstanding example of the enduring excellence of Victorian engineering and design, the sewers are now being compromised with the buildup of indissoluble matter. However, with the use of new technology to break down fatbergs, and by taking preventative measures to stop them forming in the first place, the sewers can be kept clear and efficient.  

Filtering and Breaking Down Fats

At this point, it’s undeniable that non-biodegradable materials are in the system, but the good news is, there are new and innovative products that can alleviate issues such as blockages and associated flooding that arise from their buildup. EasyMerchant supply geotextiles that filter pollutants in fluids. Geotextiles are durable but permeable fabrics that can support a variety of civil engineering projects associated with sewers and drainage systems. As well as using physical materials, the water authority responsible for Birmingham, Severn Trent, have recently signed an agreement with a US based supplier for biological technology that can deal with fats, oils and grease (FOG). Native, fat-eating bacteria offer an ecologically friendly solution to fat buildup and are introduced in order to efficiently break down FOG in the sewerage system. As a result, the costs associated with maintenance or unblocking sewers with spades or jetting equipment are greatly reduced.

Preventing the Build of Fat

In addition to dealing with the FOG that enters the sewer system, Severn Trent are taking a proactive approach to prevent the build up of fats in the first place. They will continue to remind their customers to dispose of fats, oils and greases responsibly by putting them in the bin instead of down the sink. They are also working with 3,000 local businesses that serve food, educating them on the impact of pouring fat down the drain, and ensuring that they have adequate trapping equipment installed in their premises. Just a small amount of fat can very quickly block a narrow water pipe, and Severn Trent clear an estimated 45,000 blockages in pipes and drainage systems every year.  Through dealing directly with business owners, these blockages can be prevented, and it is hoped that up to 500 tonnes of FOG can be kept out of the sewers in 2019.

Birmingham’s sewers are an extraordinary feat of Victorian engineering that, in general, can still cope well with the demands of a large, modern city. However, without educating residents and business owners on the hazards of fat accumulating in the city’s sewer system, blockages and flooding may start to cause more serious issues.