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Threat of fatbergs to be tackled in Inverness city centre as study identifies 192 sewer chokes over three years

By Val Sweeney

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Action is being taken to tackle the threat of fatbergs in Inverness city centre.
Action is being taken to tackle the threat of fatbergs in Inverness city centre.

Hot food businesses are being enlisted in a new campaign to tackle the threat of fatbergs choking up Inverness city centre sewers.

New studies have revealed a hotspot of 192 sewer chokes in Inverness over three years, focused within less than half a square kilometre.

Members of the local business community have now been working with Scottish Water, Highland Council and Zero Waste Scotland in recent months to develop new ways of engaging businesses that serve hot food in a bid to raise awareness and make lasting improvements.

Across Scotland, the incorrect disposal of fat, oil and grease – referred to as FOG – is estimated to be a factor in more than half of all blockages in Scotland’s sewer networks with Scottish Water teams attending an average of 100 blockages a day.

A map reveals the sewer choke hotspots in Inverness city centre.
A map reveals the sewer choke hotspots in Inverness city centre.

Local businesses are now helping to shape plans – including new posters and information for owners, managers and kitchen staff – aligned with Scottish Water’s Nature Calls campaign which has also contributed to a reduction in blockages caused by wet wipes in its first year.

Thomas Machnik, who manages Café Ness by the Cathedral, attended a workshop at the Palace Hotel earlier this year to discuss the approach and help shape materials for use in kitchens.

"I think it is a brilliant scheme and it should have been done years ago," he said.

"The FOG advisors are not chargeable. They will guide us through the best way to tackle the problem.

"We need to think about it as not just a deep fat frying issue. Milk, cheese, bacon – they all contribute.

"There are going to be some initial cost implications but it immediately protects the environment and the Inverness city centre."

A new campaign in Inverness aims to raise awareness of the problems caused by incorrect disposal of fat, oil and grease.
A new campaign in Inverness aims to raise awareness of the problems caused by incorrect disposal of fat, oil and grease.

Specialists from Environmental Compliance & Services (ECAS) are visiting food service establishments in the area of the city centre where chokes are most common.

Where they find a grease management system in a kitchen which is inefficient, they will provide advice on the improvements that should be made and support with raising awareness among relevant staff.

They will then return at a later date to follow-up and confirm if action has been taken.

Alan Yates, Highland Council's environmental health manager, said that in addition to potential public health issues, the blockage of drains and sewers caused considerable disruption and clean-up costs to the business community and members of the public.

"I would therefore encourage any food business to follow the guidance on disposal of FOG and understand the value in preventing such blockages," he said.

"As part of the partnership working, our environmental health team will be highlighting the issues of FOG disposal and offering guidance during routine food hygiene inspections."

Scottish Water’s waste water network performance manager Ian Burnett said guided by data showing where problems occur most often, there was a real opportunity to be more proactive by working even more closely with businesses.

"We know that local businesses want to play their part in protecting the local environment which is so important to their success," he said.

"They also want to prevent the avoidable misery, disruption and cost that blocked drains can bring.

"The sewer network in Scotland’s towns and cities faces real challenges which we are committed to working with all of our partners to address.

"While none of us can stop the intense rainstorms that have potential to overwhelm drains and sewers, we can work together to get rid of the FOG."


* Fat, oil and grease in liquid form may not appear to be harmful but as it cools it congeals and hardens.

* This can cause blockages to the inner lining of drainage pipes, leading to potential waste water flooding within properties, in streets and to the local environment.

* In extreme cases, blocked sewers can spill into burns, rivers, streams, coastal waters and beaches, causing environmental damage.

* Scottish Water deals with more than 36,000 blockages every year – costing around £7million to attend and clear.

* The waste water drain which runs from individual properties to the public sewer is usually only about four inches wide, which is less than the diameter of a DVD.

* Scottish Water maintains and improves over 30,000 miles of sewer pipes which take waste water away from homes and business premises across Scotland. This is treated at over 1,800 waste water treatment works before returning it to the environment.

* Everything that goes down plugholes, toilets and drains in urban areas will end up in the drains and sewers.

* Whether it is saturated fat (like lard), mono-unsaturated fat (like olive oil) or vegetable oil, they all congeal and harden. The fat or oil content in leftover sauces and soup contributes to the same problems.

Further information at Nature Calls.

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