Style Beauty

Tuesday 12 November 2019

Anatomy of a 'fatberg'

Wet wipe
Wet wipe
Sophie Donaldson

Sophie Donaldson

What is a fatberg? Sophie Donaldson explains the fascinating and repulsive phenomenon

An item added to the permanent collection of the Museum of London last year sparked a spike in visitors, and also prompted a surge of viewers who watched a virtual livestream of the fascinating specimen last year.

This historic piece wasn't another Roman bust or ancient tapestry - it was a wet wipe. Well, not just a wet wipe, the item was made up of other household waste, like cotton pads and plastic wrappers which, over the course of many years, had become 'glued' together by the fats from cooking oil that people had poured down their sink.

Deep beneath London, in a sewer at Whitechapel, this grew into a vast congealed mass and was christened a 'fatberg' soon after its discovery in September 2017. The length of two football pitches, after it was excavated a small portion was removed and sent to the museum where crowds were fascinated and repelled in equal measure.

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Despite the name, a recent study from UK Water has found that these blockages are actually made up of just 0.5pc fat and around 93pc wet wipes.

Since the Whitechapel discovery, blockages have been found in other parts of the UK, as well as in Ireland, albeit on a smaller scale; last year, Irish Water cleared more than 6,000 blocked sewers around the country including an 8-foot mass removed from a Wicklow sewer.

The majority of these blockages are caused by inappropriate items, such as wipes, cotton pads and sanitary items, being flushed down the toilet. The effect can be catastrophic on the environment as well compromising our waterways.

So, how to avoid the fatbergs?

First things first: never flush items down the loo that shouldn't be there. Rather than relying on products that are toxic and non-biodegradable, we should all audit our beauty kits and look at what items can be replaced with eco-friendly alternatives.

This edit from Ruth Griffin, is the perfect place to start.

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