What is a fatberg? PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 04 June 2018 11:33

By Remedios F. Marmoleño


Just like any other morning I had gone into the BBC website for the day’s news. One item had the word “fatberg” in the lead and it was a  word I had never met before. Curious, I clicked on the item.

The item was reporting on how certain items that residents of London put into their toilets  block sewage canals over time, items like sanitary pads, baby diapers, etc. It reminded readers to put only “pee, poo and paper” into the toilet.

The report also mentioned another reason for blocked sewage drains - cooking oil that is thrown out through the kitchen drain. The low temperature in the sewage  drains coagulates the oil and over time  a mass  is formed which catches other solids that get into the drains and eventually block the flow of liquid through the drainage system. The science involved is pretty elementary but the nuisance that blocked  sewage pipes create is far from elementary. We know from experience in our city how heavy rain causes flooding in some streets.

The word “fatberg” was used in the report to refer to the mass in the drainage system that begins with disposed cooking oil. But the interesting part is what is done with the fatberg.

The fatberg is collected, cleared of solid debris, and the sludge is processed further, mixed with some other materials, and the end of the process gives a clear liquid that is used as biodiesel fuel. No mention was made of what the cost per liter is of the biodiesel so readers can speculate on  the feasibility of such a process in the Philippines, for instance.

But the  ideas  that came into my mind after reading this BBC report  were not only about fatbergs but also about how we can look at other “nuisance” situations in our country and how these can be channeled into more beneficial situations. And my mind focused on plastic we throw away and which create hazards to the environment.

The word fatberg reminded  me  of iceberg  which is a navigational hazard in the cold areas of the Atlantic ( remember the movie Titanic?)  and similar bodies of water. My mind then skipped to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch which is now a reality whose impact on human life we do not yet fully know.

These realities are not going away no matter how much we wring our hands in frustration. We need to think how we can constructively eliminate these realities from our midst. Or if they can’t be eliminated how can mankind transform them into realities that promote the good of our society. In short, we need to start thinking out of the box.