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Eye-catching images of a giant “mountain of fat” unveiled in a sewer in east London in February highlighted the dangers of consumers being careless about what they flush in the toilet or dump in the kitchen sink.
Thames Water’s skilled engineers spent two weeks using powerful jets of water and hand tools to chip off and eventually remove the stone-like pile – the size of a small bungalow – from a location in Canary Wharf.
Fatbergs are a growing environmental scourge (not just in the UK but around the world) and their incidence has increased in recent years. They arise when oil, grease, and grease that is poured down the sewer combine with non-biodegradable items such as wet wipes, toiletries, diapers, and cotton swabs that have been flushed in the toilet. The solid lumps slowly build up over time and block the pipes. This returns raw wastewater to the sewers, holes and toilets.
Thames Water, the UK’s largest water and sanitation service company with 15 million customers, said blockages increased 20% during the first national lockdown last year, most likely due to a lack of toilet paper that led to alternatives like wet wipes and kitchen roll is rinsed in the toilet. Consumers who cook more from home and use more oil and fat have made the problem worse.
The company’s ongoing “Bin it – Don’t Block it” campaign is part of a broader industry effort to educate consumers on how to properly dispose of items that can cause blockages.
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What can I flush down the toilet?
Just flush the “three Ps” – pee, feces and toilet paper – in the toilet. You can dispose of wet wipes in the toilet, but ONLY if they are certified by the water industry “Fine Flush”. That means they have been rigorously tested to ensure they fail in the UK sewer system.
What can I not flush in the toilet?
Other common bathroom and personal items such as used cotton balls, sanitary napkins and tampons, condoms, floss, cotton balls and buds. These should be wrapped up and put in trash cans instead of being flushed down the toilet.
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How to unlock a toilet
If the toilet bowl takes a long time to drain, just sits there or rises up to the edge, it means your toilet is blocked.
The Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineers (CIPHE) says unlocking a toilet is likely to get messy and recommends wearing long rubber gloves and goggles and putting on old clothes. Cover the nearby floor with old towels or newspapers. They say you don’t have to turn off the water supply before you start.
Pouring a bucket of warm (not boiling) water into the pan from a great height will often clear a minor clog, according to plumbing expert Emma Wills of DIY chain B&Q. If that’s not enough, get one Try the piston. Place a large toilet plunger over the pan outlet and pump the handle up and down. Soak in until the blockage is cleared.
If that doesn’t shift, use an auger for a toilet (a standard drain snake can damage or tear the chinaware). The probe extends around the U-bend and rotates when you twist the handle, clearing the blockage. Make sure you have read the manufacturer’s instructions before doing this. You could also use a natural enzyme cleaner, but try to avoid using environmentally harmful strong chemical cleaners whenever possible. If the blockage persists, contact a professional plumber.
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