VALENCIA has just spent €2 million on clearing a ‘wipe-berg’ – the city’s own version of the UK’s ‘fatbergs’ – from its drainage system and has launched a campaign urging residents not to put anything other than toilet paper down the lavatory.
Recent reports in the Spanish media showed that a kilometre-long blockage had appeared in Valencia’s pipes, mostly made up of wet-wipes – the type used instead of toilet paper mainly, but also face-wipes and baby-wipes – plus other waste items that should not be flushed away, including cotton wool, cotton buds, dental floss, sanitary towels, tampons, and even condoms.
It came at around the same time as Thames Water in London reported a ‘fatberg the size of a Boeing 747’ having been found in the drainage system under Whitechapel, weighing 140 tonnes and measuring 250 metres, costing around €1.15m to shift with workers on the job seven days a week for – so far – two months.
The expression ‘fatberg’, first coined in 2013 and added to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) in 2015, describes a huge, congealed deposit found in the pipes made up of similar items as those recently removed from Valencia’s waterworks, but also greasy and fatty matter such as used cooking oil and food fat, and even used nappies, tennis balls and chunks of wood.
Fatbergs normally have to be shifted with cranes and are discovered when theys start to cause problems – usually by the time they have reached the size of a bus.
“All solid elements should be thrown in the bin, not the toilet, because it creates blockages,” was water councillor Vicent Sarrià’s understatement of the year on the subject.
The Valencia ‘wipe-berg’, or ‘fatberg’, had built up in the sewage works at the north end of the city which channels 40% of the waste matter from the whole of the metropolitan area to the Pinedo treatment plant, and its removal – completed this week – involved over 900 tonnes of revolting matter being shifted.
By the time it was discovered by drainage network company Acciona, the sewage collector was about to burst, with waste water on the point of flooding what used to be the Túria riverbed and what is now the botanical gardens surrounding the city centre.
“It’s a growing problem, but as it cannot be seen, it goes unnoticed until something happens,” says Sarrià, who referred to the cost of removing it as ‘brutal’ – nearly 20% of unexpected extra expense on top of the city’s annual drain-clearing budget of €11m.
“As Valencia is a flat city, the problem affects the pump network which carries waste water to the treatment plant and is in place because there are no hills to channel it downward,” the councillor reveals.
Another fatberg build-up has been detected in the sewage channel pipe, but will not be able to be removed until early 2018 when it can be funded by next year’s budget.
Campaigns have been launched targeting apartment block freehold communities, and also schools, and the council has called for the central government to ensure manufacturers clearly label wet-wipes and similar products showing they should not be disposed of down the toilet.
Part of the problem is that their users often genuinely do not realise they should be placed in the bin and not the toilet.
Valencia also wants the government to work with manufacturers on funding research into how wet-wipes can be made with biodegradable material.
Most public toilets in bars, shops, restaurants and shopping centres carry warning signs requesting users do not throw wet-wipes or sanitaryware down the lavatory.