Coronavirus & Fatbergs

/ / blog, Fog Blog

The C-word. Anywhere we choose to look online, we can’t avoid it; Coronavirus has well and truly got our attention. As varying levels of panic set in around the world, consumer habits are changing. Pasta, flour, tinned goods are all flying off the shelves. Not to mention that bottles of hand sanitiser are sold out everywhere.

I bet the people who make hand sanitiser are rubbing their hands together! BA DUM TSS

Anyway-one bad joke and a total loss dignity later; there’s one supermarket sweep that has a lot of people worried.


More than most, it’s toilet paper that has been flying off the shelves around the world. Fear of material shortages have set in and prompted those who fear the worst to stockpile all that they can. Nonetheless if you’re going to self-quarantine, it’s probably a good idea. In the immortal words of Sir Alex Ferguson, “Squeaky Bum Time” has kicked in.

It seems it’s the land down under that appear the most concerned. The behaviour of shoppers had been dramatically referred to as #toiletpaperapocalypse (no I’m not making that up). It’s sparked a lot of social media activity too, including what sounds like a teaser trailer for the worst film of all time:

However, the knock-on effect of this behaviour may well be more serious than many are anticipating. In the midst of shops bereft of toilet paper, customers are likely to be tempted to use alternatives. However, most alternatives could cause exponential damage to the sewers they end up in.

Most wet wipes do not biodegrade quickly enough. Even many labelled “flushable” aren’t really appropriate. A range of plumbers across Australia have spoken amidst the pandemic about the damage that flushing wet wipes down the toilet can cause.

Wetwipes are a common offender in the anatomy of a fatberg. Fats, oils and grease (FOG) congeal with a variety of improperly disposed household items. The result is a monster fatberg clogging our sewers, impacting the environment and costing taxpayers for removal.

CEO of Master Plumbers, Peter Daly, summarised the issue:

“Toilet paper is specifically designed to break down quickly in the sewer system. Flushing wipes down the toilet, whether labelled ‘flushable’ or not, can cause problems with your plumbing and can contribute to blocked sewers. “These can be very expensive problems to fix – bills for households can be in the thousands and it’s estimated that Australian water authorities spend $15m each year removing wipes from pipes and pumps. On top of this is the environmental cost.”

In the wake of the toilet paper frenzy, Hunter’s Water reminded Australia only to flush the 3 P’s:

  • Pee
  • Poo
  • (toilet) Paper


Dr Niki Edwards, from the School of Public Health and Social Work in Queensland, Australia said toilet paper ‘symbolises control’:

“We use it to ‘tidy up’ and ‘clean up’. It deals with a bodily function that is somewhat taboo. ‘When people hear about the coronavirus, they are afraid of losing control. And toilet paper feels like a way to maintain control over hygiene and cleanliness”

Very deep! Leading Australian toilet paper manufacturers assured AU news that they won’t be running out of toilet paper any time soon, and that people shouldn’t panic buy.

Wet wipes are incredibly difficult to breakdown, and when they congeal with FOG in our sewers, the result can be disastrous. Fatbergs can span well over 100 metres and despite their sludgy contents, they become as hard as concrete. This makes them extremely difficult to breakdown and potentially very harmful for infrastructure and environment. Below is an example of a wet wipe encrusted fatberg found in Wicklow, Ireland.

COVID19 has become an international concern and proper measures should be taken to prevent the spread of such a potentially catastrophic virus. Here at Grease Guardian we remind you to stay safe and practice good hygiene. Amidst the pandemic, please remember not to dispose of sanitary products properly.

By treating our sewers properly, we can work together to reduce the occurrence of fatbergs. In turn, we’ll lower plumbing bills, save taxpayer money and help protect the planet. This is just one of many practices, including the proper disposal of commercial kitchen oils and grease, that can help keep our sewers and seas clean and healthy. For more information and advice on how your kitchen can help make a difference, please contact us HERE.