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Chewing the fat in Liverpool: Unity needed to eliminate fatberg threats

Wednesday, 26 October 2022

What’s the latest update on fats, oils & grease (FOG) – responsible for those infamous ‘fatbergs’ in the UK? Aquatech Online reports from the recent FOG Summit.

A tough time for small business

Liverpool: a mecca of music, fierce football rivalry, historic docks and the host of the 2022 European FOG (fats, oils, and greases) Summit. 

The Eurovision Song 2023 will have a tough act to follow as this year's event brought together utilities, solution providers and the food serving establishments (FSE) to the iconic Titanic Hotel on Liverpool's docks.

Despite The developing energy crisis gripping most of Europe inevitability became centre of attention.

So soon after the global pandemic, FSEs are once again facing a tough battle and while aware of the importance of FOG, it is not as high on their priority list as it was 12 months ago. 

I was contacted by a member the other day, his electricity was going from £800 a month to £8000 a month.

Speaking at the opening session of the summit said, Andrew Crook, president of the National Federation of Fish Friers, said: "Things are tough at the moment. Businesses have got a lot of extra costs that obviously we've not been able to budget for - they're spiralling out of control. 

"I was contacted by a member the other day - his electricity was going from £800 a month to £8000 a month."

The true damage of the energy crisis is yet to be seen and its impact on FSEs will most likely result in rising energy bills. Despite this, Crooks added that water companies are still encouraging FSEs to implement fog management systems.

"It is a tough time for small businesses and then we are getting visits from water companies and our members have been asked to add a FOG management system. They have a couple of conversations on social media and then often they opt for a metal box from eBay, which does sort of a job, but it's not ideal.

"There are businesses out there that just can't afford £3000 for a grease removal unit," Crooks said.

FOG lessons, the hard way

Last year, FOG made the headlines when Mitchells & Butlers Leisure Retail, which owns pub and restaurant chains including Toby Carvery, Harvester and Miller & Carter, was ordered to pay more than £90,000 after FOG found its way into the Thames Water sewer network in Oxfordshire.

Jennie Smith, director of building maintenance and environmental compliance at Mitchells & Butlers gave an update on what the company has done since the historic prosecution. 

"Off the back of the prosecution, I sought and received approval from our board to spend £7 million putting grease removal units into our entire estate," she said. 

However, 18 months on Smith said the company is yet to begin the programme, citing confusion over the performance of the current FOG management systems and awaiting the incoming PAS standards.

Every manufacturer will tell you that its machine is best, it's the only one that works and is 99 per cent efficient.

"You go out to the market, as we did, you do a request for information (RFI) and you say, come and tell us about your grease removal kit. 

"Every manufacturer will tell you that its machine is best, it's the only one that works and is 99 per cent efficient. But actually, there is no standard, there's no certification, there's no real transparency over what those machines do and how they work," she said.

Passing the 'fatberg' parcel

Speaking on behalf of the solution provider, Robert Menzies, director of GreaseTech Drainage Solutions said there’s a need for more dewatering sites in the UK for companies to effectively tackle FOG and a need for an actual circular economy. 

He said: "There isn't one at the moment [a circular economy], there's no value in the FOG and that's where we need a stronger policy from the water companies.

"If we've got a tanker driving around the country with 5,000 gallons in it, 2,000 will be fat and 3,000 will be water. So 70 per cent of the water travelling around the country is a waste of fuel."

While the UK may currently lack standards for FOG systems, many providers' systems are tested against other countries' regulations.

Education is absolutely critical.

For example, FOG systems looking to enter the US market will be tested by the Plumbing & Drainage Institute, using hot water and melted pork lard. This comprises 13 tests and must achieve a 90 per cent retention of the fat with 10 per cent allowed to go into the sewers. 

Edward Palin, UK sales director at Filta Group called for more education to properly tackle the challenge

"Education is absolutely critical,” he said. “There are about 407,000 commercial kitchens in the UK. If you imagine four people working in each one, you have two million working on the front-line handling FOG."

Filta Group runs the FOG Smart programme to help educate FSEs on FOG best practices.

Unity is needed, now more than ever

One of the key messages of the event was summarised by former BBC science editor, David Shukman. 

In his keynote speech, Shukman called for unity in the FOG community and urged the sector to work together to solve this growing challenge. 

While there is a long road ahead in the fight against the environmental challenge of FOG with the incoming PAS standards on the horizon, the hospitality and solution providers are slowly coming together.

Change is coming, the question is how quickly? The standards are urgently needed to be ironed out, implemented and enforced to make a difference in a challenging economic environment.