A colossal beast has overtaken the city of London, threatening its infrastructure and horrifying inhabitants. It’s a sinister, smelly beast of a sewer blockage lurking beneath city streets.
The Whitechapel fatburg, as the clog is called, is a concrete-like formation of fat, intermingled with disposable wipes, diapers, condoms, and feminine products that takes up a sixth of a mile of the sewer system below London’s Whitechapel Road. It weighs an estimated 140 tons and is 10 times the size of the giant fatburg found in South London in 2013.
Thames Water, the city’s utility, discovered the massive blockage during a routine inspection last week. Using high-powered hoses and hand tools, an eight-person crew is currently working seven days a week to clear the clog by breaking up and transporting its putrid matter off site. According to NPR, the team is progressing at a rate of 20-30 tons a day.
“It’s a total monster, and taking a lot of manpower and machinery to remove as it’s set hard,” said Matt Rimmer, head of waste networks for Thames Water. As we’ve reported previously, disposable wipes are a costly nuisance for sewer systems around the world. Rimmer explains that blockages caused by disposable wipes and fat occur frequently in London—at a rate of about eight a week. The organization spends about $1.3 million each month to remove them.
Many major cities experience fatburgs—New York City has reportedly spent millions of dollars to keep sewers clear of them. But the New York Times reports that London’s system is particularly challenging since the 1,100-mile sewer network was built in the 19th century to serve only four million people. Today it serves more than twice that number. London officials explain that work is underway on a super-sewer.
In the meantime, technologies are also being developed to filter out and harness the energy in waste toilet paper. Scientists at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development of Utrecht University published a study last week in Energy Technology outlining a system design for converting waste toilet paper, a rich source of carbon, into electricity. While the technology is nascent, it’s comforting to know that someday there may be a power-generating purpose for the stuff…as well as a way to avoid beastly sewer blockages.
How do clogs affect your organization? What solutions have you found most effective?