How we’re tackling hotspots and changing habits

Throughout the year, our teams have been busy visiting local cities and towns to tackle blockages and spread the 3ps message. So far, they've cleared 22,590 blockages from across our network, with 70% of these made up of fat, oil and the unflushables. 

Elvira Gabos, FOG and Unflushables Manager, tells us more about why it matters more than ever to think about what we're flushing, and our work in local communities to protect our environment from the impact of blockages.

Our fog and unflushables team exists to save our seas and sewers. How? By removing blockages and helping people understand how their daily habits can improve the health of our drains, sewers, watercourses and seas. That’s because the things people put down their drains can block or damage sewers, causing wastewater to back-up into people’s homes or overspill into streets, fields and waterways.

My team works all year round to protect our network from blockages. This year, we’ve been targeting blockage hotspots across our region to clear the sewers and talk to local people about how they can help us keep them flowing freely.

To further raise awareness, we’ve continued our partnership with environmental not-for-profit City to Sea to offer its award-winning Rethink Periods training for schools. We’ve also co-hosted the European FOG Summit in Brighton, which provided a forum to discuss the issue and share best practice with other water companies and stakeholders from a range of groups and organisations.

Let’s take a closer look at what we’ve been up to.

Focusing on the hotspots

We identified the blockage hotspots across our region by analysing data on past sewer blockages and flooding incidents. The sewers in each of these areas supports around 15,000 homes. We’ve been proactively visiting each hotspot to clear the sewers and raise awareness.

While one crew surveys and cleans the sewers, another team goes door-to-door to explain how people’s habits can cause sewer incidents and share tips to help us keep the sewers flowing freely.

What we’ve found in these hotspots may shock you. By the summer, we’d discovered 1,175 blockages. However, the causes were hardly a surprise – the usual suspects were to blame:

• Unflushables are the worst offenders – 40% of the blockages were caused by things people had flushed down toilets, such as wet wipes, period products, cotton buds, dental floss and condoms. For many years, manufactures have labelled some of these products ‘flushable’. Yet they often contain hidden plastic, which means they don’t break apart in the sewers. Instead, they can get stuck and cause harm to homes, communities and the environment.

• Fat, oil and grease (FOG) are the second biggest cause – 13% of blockages were caused by FOG washed down people’s kitchen sinks. FOG are used in most forms of cooking, but if they’re washed down the sink, they build-up on the inside of the pipes and restrict the flow of wastewater. Have you heard people mention fatbergs? This is where they come from – especially if unflushables mix with the congealed FOG and they all stick together.

Although a small number of blockages were caused by things like tree roots and grit that had entered the sewers, the majority were due to people’s habits. That’s why we’re trying to spread the word about how people can do their bit.

Giving people the facts

We’re always keen to talk to people about how they can help us protect our sewers and seas from the impact of blockages. Now COVID-19 restrictions have lifted, we’ve been able to get back out into the community and talk to more people face-to-face at local events, schools and community groups.

In addition, we’re supporting City-to-Sea’s Rethink Periods campaign. Now in its second year, this free education programme for teachers and school nurses aims to provide up-to-date information about periods and their social and environmental aspects. 500 schools in our region have now completed the training and received a free product demonstration box, containing period products to talk about in the classroom. These include eco-friendly alternatives, such as reusable or organic options.

We were also proud to bring the European FOG Summit to the UK for the first time this year in collaboration with SwiftComply and British Water. On 14 October, thought leaders from across Europe gathered both virtually and in-person at the Hilton Metropole Hotel in Brighton.

Through a range of talks, panel discussions and networking sessions throughout the day, attendees heard and shared the latest about the societal and environmental challenge presented by blockages, along with the solutions currently being used or explored.

What can you do to avoid blockages?

Because most blockages are caused by people’s behaviour, each of us has the power to help prevent them from happening. You can help by following these simple, everyday tips:

• In the bathroom – Only flush the three Ps: pee, poo and paper. Anything else goes in the bin. Even products labelled flushable or bio-degradable.

• In the kitchen – Stop food waste going down the plughole. Scrape your plates before you wash up, and collect cooled fat, oil and grease from cooking in a used container and bin it.
If you’re one of our many customers already disposing of household waste in this way, thank you.

If what you’ve just read has convinced you to do more, now is the perfect time to change your daily habits and save our seas and sewers.