Kingspan Environmental Northern Ireland
Sewer blockages are epidemic in the UK, with estimates of 366,999 per year, 70% of them caused by fat, oil and grease (FOG). Owners of catering businesses must manage their FOG waste, capturing before it enters the drains, or run the risk of prosecution under Section III of the Water Industry Act 1991. Water companies are increasingly clamping down on infringements, prosecuting offenders who face heavy fines.
The problem is getting worse, despite the fact that food outlets now have access to smart ways of disposing of FOG safely with technology and monitoring providing better ways to manage the process.
Kingspan is seeking legislative changes to make monitoring of grease traps a mandatory requirement, as it is with oil/water separators (PPG 3).
The company also wants to advance the debate around changing societal perception of FOG, from that of a waste product, to fuel and encourage greater use of it as an ingredient in bio-diesel.
Our love of coffee shops and eating out shows no sign of abating, but while this enthusiasm has been very good both for the hospitality industry and the wider UK economy, it has come at a cost in terms of food waste.
The rise in the number of food outlets across the country is one of the reasons for a huge increase in sewer blockages, which are now almost an epidemic.
Water UK, which represents the UK’s water and wastewater utilities, estimates there are now around 366,000 sewer blockages per annum across the country and 70% are caused by fat, oil and grease (FOG).
The reasons are largely two-fold. There is widespread acceptance and acknowledgement that our drainage infrastructure was never designed to cater for the demand that we now place upon it – and that’s true of both wastewater and (increasingly) floodwater run-off. However, it’s also fair to say that owners of these outlets are not always observing their legal responsibilities about disposing of food waste – particularly when it comes to FOG.
The reason why FOG is such a problem lies in its physical properties. As hot fat and grease cool, they congeal, binding together other solids in the sewer and adhering to any object in its path, including the inside of drainage pipes creating ‘fat bergs’. Thousands of tonnes of FOG are now believed to be in the sewer at any one time.
Sewer blockages cause huge disruption and a public health nuisance. They can also cause problems for individual food outlets as a local blockage will cause bad smells, blocked WCs, and will land the owner with a large bill for the cost of the clean-up.
It is, not surprisingly, a criminal offence under Section 111 of the Water Industry Act 1991 to discharge into the public sewers any matter which may interfere with the free flow of wastewater. For all businesses which handle or prepare food, this means they must adhere to a number of legally binding grease management procedures. Uncontrolled discharge of FOG from a food service establishment could contravene Section 111 of the Water Industry Act 1991 and result in the water and sewerage company bringing a prosecution against that establishment, leading to a fine and recovery of the water company’s costs (See: The Legislative Imperative).
Table 1: The UK Catering Industry by Sector
The largest sector in the catering industry is the hospitality sector, with restaurants, cafes and bars accounting for around 54% of the market. Health and Education account for a further 20%, whilst hotels account for a 12% share and the remaining 14% is from other sectors such as offices, leisure and retail etc.
A breakdown of the estimated number of catering outlets in each sector can be found in Appendix 1.
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