Major new development in the fight against fatbergs

11th January 2018

The fight against fatbergs received a major boost today.  Severn Trent is supporting the publication of a new official standard identifying which wet wipes can be flushed down toilets safely.

Manufacturers of wipes will be able to feature an official water industry ‘Fine to Flush’ symbol on their packaging if they pass strict scientific tests. This symbol will let consumers know that the products don’t contain plastic and will break down in the sewer system instead of clogging up sewers and contributing to fatbergs which cause blockages and sewage overflows.

Fatbergs – mainly caused by a build-up of wet wipes, fats, oils and grease into a solid mass – have been increasing in frequency in recent years. These include a 250-metre long fatberg
in Whitechapel in London in 2017 which weighed as much as nineteen elephants, and a 64-metre fatberg which was discovered blocking a sewer this week in Sidmouth, Devon.

In 2017 the biggest ever in-depth investigation of sewer blockages in the UK proved that wipes being flushed down toilets caused serious problems in the sewerage system. The project found that non-flushable wet wipes could make up around 93% of the material causing some sewer blockages. These wipes – which included a high proportion of baby wipes – are not designed to be flushed.

Commenting on the new ‘Fine to Flush’ standard, Grant Mitchell, sewer blockages lead for Severn Trent, said:  “Severn Trent is totally in support of this important step in the battle against blockages. We’ve all seen the impact of fatbergs recently, and we want to see less of them.  One of the biggest struggles we’ve had with wet wipes is people knowing if they’re flushable or not, and this new standard will make that absolutely clear. 

“Although there’s been an increase in products being labelled ‘Do Not Flush’ lately, which is great, there are many wipes on the market labelled ‘Flushable’.  These don’t break down quickly when they enter the sewer system, and wouldn’t pass the stringent tests to receive the new ‘Fine to Flush’ symbol.  So we’re encouraging our customers to put any wipes that don’t have the new ‘Fine to Flush’ symbol straight into the bin – this will hopefully then lead to less fatbergs, less sewer blockages and less misery for our customers. ”

Manufacturers can have their wipes tested by WRc, the Swindon-based independent technical experts who developed the specifications for flushability standards in conjunction with Water UK. If they pass the tests, the wipes manufacturers will receive the ‘Fine to Flush’ symbol from WRc.

There are approximately 300,000 sewer blockages annually, with around 45,000 of those in the Severn Trent region, costing the country £100 million. Thousands of properties suffer sewer
flooding caused by these blockages every year in the UK, creating misery for homeowners and businesses and leading to high clean-up bills and increased insurance costs. Sewer flooding also has a major impact on the environment.

The technical name for ‘Fine to Flush’ is Water Industry Specification 4-02-06, and the full details of the specification can be found on the Water UK website.  Manufacturers can contact WRc to find out more about the process for having their wipes tested and receiving the official ‘Fine to Flush’ symbol.