Saving the world one flush at a time

Michelle Ringland

Michelle Ringland is head of marketing at Lanes for Drains - part of Lanes Group plc, the UK’s largest independent drainage contractor. The company recently launched the ‘Fatberg Fighters’ campaign, offering free lesson plans, and working with Primary schools across the UK to empower children to take the lead in educating their families about how to protect our sewers and what should, and shouldn’t, go down the drain.

Follow @LanesForDrains

Website: Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Images courtesy of author. Images courtesy of author.

In September 2017, the world’s imagination was captured by the ‘monster fatberg’ - considered the world’s biggest - that was found blocking the sewers in Whitechapel, London.

Weighing 130 tonnes and measuring 250 metres in length, the fatberg was a congealed mass of fat, oil and grease (also known as FOG), as well as other items like wet wipes, sanitary products, cotton buds and condoms. These products had been put down drains over time, but aren't biodegradable. In fact, many sanitary items and wipes contain plastics in the woven fabrics. It took weeks for professionals to excavate the whole fatberg, at an estimated cost of more than £1 million.

Its discovery made headlines in 115 countries worldwide, with broadcasting crews visiting from afar to report to the public how our “Many sanitary items and wipes contain plastics in the woven fabrics.”Victorian sewers have been affected by modern-day life. Even Greg James, presenter on BBC Radio 1, visited the fatberg and broadcast a whole show from the scene.

Fast forward to today, and the final piece of the fatberg is now featured in an exhibition in the Museum of London - the first time a fatberg has ever been put on public display - and has proved a huge hit with the public.

A man-made phenomena

But why has it attracted so much attention? Well, because not much is known about these monsters that lurk beneath our feet. But more should be known about them, because they are extremely common - a purely man-made phenomena, and can cause serious problems, including:

  • Sewer blockage.
  • Structural damage to sewers and drains.
  • Sewage floods.
  • Extensive local flooding during heavy rain - causing disruption to travel and businesses.
  • Higher insurance premiums for local homeowners.
  • Higher water bills for local homeowners.
  • Health risks from sewage spills.
  • Pollution damage to natural water courses.
  • Environmental/wildlife risks as a result of plastics found in wipes and other products in fatbergs.
  • Health risks posed to drainage engineers while removing fatbergs.

For all those reasons, I feel very strongly that awareness and education needs to be improved among UK schools about what should be put down the drains and why it’s so important to protect our sewers.

But where do we start? Step forward, children - your time is now.

Challenging a prevailing culture and set of behaviours about what people put down drains is a long-term task. While it can be extremely hard to change behaviours - look at campaigns to make people wear seatbelts, reduce the number of plastic bags used when shopping, and stop dogs fouling on the street - it does eventually work, over time.

It’s vitally important to start early and teach the youngest generation how to treat our infrastructure and environment with care.

Tools for schools

This is a view that is shared by many of the major utilities companies, many of which have education teams that offer fantastic free resources for schools that you can use. Here are a few examples that could help you educate your pupils:

In fact, most utilities companies also offer great opportunities to visit sewage treatment plants. Such outings help children see for themselves what happens to the things that get poured and flushed down the drain. If you get in touch with your local utility company, their education team should be able to arrange a visit, or even come into your school - and often that’s free of charge.

A simple science experiment

One of the simplest ways to illustrate how fatbergs may become formed and clog our pipes and drains is to conduct a simple science experiment.

1. Show the children a range of fats, oils and grease that might be used in a typical kitchen for cooking. Melt some fat and discuss how, when we cook with fats like butter or lard, they melt and become a liquid.
2. Pour the melted fat into cold water - simulating what might happen when it goes down the sink - and show them how the melted fat begins to solidify.
3. If you can, get hold of a piece of piping, preferably a ‘p-trap’ or ‘u-bend’ that you might find under a kitchen sink, and pour the mixture of cold water and melted fat into the pipe. You should find that the solidified fat sticks in the pipe and doesn’t come out the other end, while the water moves through freely.

While you’re at it, why not mix together a range of fats, oils and grease, adding wet wipes and cotton buds to the mixture, to make your very own disgusting fatberg? Show the children what we’re creating every day in our drains and sewers and, if you dare, ask them to smell it!

Three simple tips for changing children’s behaviour

You’ve got a great opportunity to teach your pupils about a unique and important topic that could help them become agents of change within society and actually have a huge impact on the world around us. And now’s the perfect time - with the world’s interest being piqued by these fatbergs that are suddenly on the agenda. What’s more, I’ve seen first-hand how children are interested and engage with topics like smelly stuff and toilets!

Even if you feel it might be a stretch to dedicate a set of lessons to teaching your children about sewers, drains and fatbergs, there are three simple messages that I’d like to encourage you to share with your pupils that they can take home with them:

1. Use a sink strainer for sink plug holes, and never, ever pour fats, oils and grease (FOG) down the sink.
2. Put any FOG generated from cooking into a small container. They could then add some nuts and seeds, let it set and voila - you’ve got a bird feeder to put in the garden or outside areas!
3. Ensure that only the 3 Ps - pee, poo and toilet paper - go down the loo.

In our society, children are arguably the most malleable and open to change - let’s teach them to champion best practices and adopt good habits that can become rooted in our homes for generations to come, one flush at a time.

Want to receive cutting-edge insights from leading educators each week? Sign up to our Community Update and be part of the action!

Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support us.
When you register, you'll join a grassroots community where you can:
• Enjoy unlimited access to articles
• Get recommendations tailored to your interests
• Attend virtual events with our leading contributors
Register Now

Latest stories

  • How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country
    How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country

    Teaching English in a foreign country is likely to be one of the most demanding experiences you'll ever have. It entails relocating to a new country, relocating to a new home, and beginning a new career, all of which are stressful in and of themselves, but now you're doing it all at once. And you'll have to converse in a strange language you may not understand.

  • Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?
    Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?

    Over the weekend, my family of five went to an Orlando theme park, and I decided we should really enjoy ourselves by purchasing an Unlimited Quick Queue pass. It was so worth the money! We rode every ride in the park at least twice, but one ride required us to ride down a rapidly flowing river, which quenched us with water. It was incredible that my two-year-old was laughing as well. We rode the Infinity Falls ride four times in one day—BEST DAY EVER for FAMILY FUN in the Sun! The entire experience was epic, full of energizing emotions and, most importantly, lots of smiles. What made this ride so cool was that the whole family could experience it together, the motions were on point, and the water was the icing on the cake. It had been a while since I had that type of fun, and I will never forget it.

  • Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2
    Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2

    The Action Pack is back for the start of the brand new school year, just in time for Recycle Week 2021 on 20 - 26 September, to empower pupils to make the world a better and more sustainable place. The free recycling-themed resources are designed for KS1 and KS2 and cover the topics of Art, English, PSHE, Science and Maths and have been created to easily fit into day-to-day lesson planning.

  • Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu
    Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu

    Following the exceptional performance from British breakthrough star Emma Raducanu, who captured her first Grand Slam at the US Open recently, Emmamania is already inspiring pupils aged 4 - 11 to get more involved in tennis - and LTA Youth, the flagship
    programme from The LTA, the governing body of tennis in Britain, has teachers across the country covered.

  • 5 ways to boost your school's eSafety
    5 ways to boost your school's eSafety

    eSafety is a term that constantly comes up in school communities, and with good reason. Students across the world are engaging with technology in ways that have never been seen before. This article addresses 5 beginning tips to help you boost your school’s eSafety. 

  • Tackling inequality in EdTech
    Tackling inequality in EdTech

    We have all been devastated by this pandemic that has swept the world in a matter of weeks. Schools have rapidly had to change the way they operate and be available for key workers' children. The inequalities that have long existed in communities and schools are now being amplified by the virus.

  • EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab
    EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab

    The world is catching up with a truth that we’ve championed at Learning Ladders for the last 5 years - that children’s learning outcomes are greatly improved by teachers, parents and learners working in partnership. 

  • Reducing primary to secondary transition stress
    Reducing primary to secondary transition stress

    As school leaders grapple with the near impossible mission to start bringing more students into schools from 1st June, there are hundreds of thousands of Year 6 pupils thinking anxiously about their move to secondary school.

  • Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?
    Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?

    The K-12 online tutoring market is booming around the world, with recent research estimating it to grow by 12% per year over the next five years, a USD $60bn increase. By breaking down geographic barriers and moving beyond the limits of local teaching expertise, online tutoring platforms are an especially valuable tool for those looking to supplement their studies in the developing world, and students globally are increasingly signing up to online tuition early on in their secondary education schooling. 

  • Employable young people or human robots?
    Employable young people or human robots?

    STEM skills have been a major focus in education for over a decade and more young people are taking science, technology, engineering, and maths subjects at university than ever before, according to statistics published by UCAS. The downside of this is that the UK is now facing a soft skills crisis and the modern world will also require children to develop strong social skills as the workplaces are transformed by technology. 

In order to make our website better for you, we use cookies!

Some firefox users may experience missing content, to fix this, click the shield in the top left and "disable tracking protection"