There are certain consequences to living in an age of convenience. Plastic straws are filling up landfills, prompting widespread bans and restrictions on their distribution. Now, New York City is turning its attention to an even more disgusting scourge: fatbergs.
A fatberg is a repulsive coagulation of things you shouldn't flush down the toilet, like bacon grease and so-called “flushable” sanitary wipes. They can be immense: One London fatberg grew to be 143 tons, becoming a cautionary tale for the rest of the world.
These mobile chunks of waste travel in sewers, creating significant blockages. The fatbergs can force untreated water into clean water sources and cause backups in residential plumbing.
With New York City currently spending $20 million annually on clearing these blockages, officials have decided to mount a public campaign cautioning residents against some of their bad plumbing habits. They have a new website admonishing people to abide by the “Four Ps” of flushing—poop, pee, puke and (toilet) paper are fine, while grease and wet wipes are not. Those should be thrown in the garbage.
While most people don’t have a problem directing their vomit and feces into a toilet without written instruction, there’s still a widely held belief that wet wipes are safe to flush. This is likely due to companies labeling them “flushable” on packaging, though the city’s anti-fatberg site insists that “flushable” simply means they won’t clog a toilet. Once it’s in the sewer system and mingles with grease, the wipes begin to contribute to a public health problem. The city removed almost 53,000 tons of debris from sewage treatment screens in 2017. Most of it consisted of the wipes.
With 8.6 million people in New York creating a substantial amount of waste, it’s easy to see why city management feels an urge to curb the problem. But no matter where you live, it’s a good idea to relegate flushes to bodily fluids and toilet paper only. Cooking crease should be allowed to cool, then put in a container and thrown away.