There’s been a global outbreak of monster fatbergs recently. If you’re lucky enough not to know what a fatberg is, I’m afraid I’m about to shatter your innocence. A fatberg is a sewer blockage formed of cooking oil, tampons, pads, wet wipes, condoms and other items that should never be flushed or poured down the drain. Fatbergs are rock hard, cost millions to shift and can cause sewage to back up in homes or to overflow into rivers. Nice.
Liverpool, Baltimore, New Zealand, even hygienic Singapore – all have been tackling this menace in the past month, with London’s 130 tonne record-breaking fatberg hitting the headlines. Surely this epidemic could be prevented? A striking new approach is being taken in the UK.
Education campaigns for the general public can help here, but for some aspects the problem goes a little deeper. When it comes to disposing of sanitary items behind the bathroom door, habits prove harder to shift. That’s for three reasons…
Firstly, there is a taboo around discussing periods, especially around disposal, even in these progressive times. That means many women are completely unaware they should not flush tampons. 60% of women flush in the UK, that’s 1.4 billion tampons down the pan every year. Water companies often shy away from naming the menace of tampons in their fatberg warnings, due to the taboo.
Secondly, when in private behind a locked door, it’s easier to get away with anti-social behaviour. Your friend may never know that you flushed a tampon at her house (until she has to call the plumber out later). Even for the best-intentioned, bathroom bins are not always to hand when you’re away from home.
Thirdly, flushing is easy and convenient, whereas binning a used tampon wrapped in toilet paper is messy and awkward. It’s not the sort of thing you want to leave in a friend’s trash, or for your own guests to see in your bin. There’s no shame in having a period, but no fun coming face to face with it either.
Five of the UK water companies have alighted upon an innovative solution. Instead of lecturing women about not flushing tampons and pads, they are giving them a helpful nudge in the right direction by providing a solution. They are offering FabLittleBags free of charge to households on request and at community events. FabLittleBag is a specially designed biodegradable sanitary disposal bag that changes the whole experience of binning – from awkward to awesome; converting die-hard flushers to binners.
The modest outlay for water companies is dwarfed by the £1m+ bill for fatberg removal. There is also a strong environmental imperative: sewer blockages and heavy rains cause raw sewage to overflow into rivers and onto beaches, with devastating aquatic pollution. This affects wildlife, not to mention humans being unwilling to share their beach with a used tampon.
Now FabLittleBag would like to hear from other water companies around the world who face the same issues and would like a simple, feel good, low cost solution. The prevention of fatbergs and environmental pollution seem like massive challenges: who’d have thought they could be tackled with one rather fab little bag?