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Press release

UK public continues to flush wet wipes, condoms and nappies despite fatberg warnings

20 March 2019

Nearly 40% of people in the UK remain unaware of fatbergs, with significant percentages of people flushing fatberg-causing items, such as wet wipes, tampons and condoms, according to new research by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).

‘Don’t Feed the Fatberg’ is a key message behind ICE’s new exhibition on water, opening to the public on World Water Day (Friday 22 March), which explores how civil engineers help provide clean water and sanitation and tackle issues such as drought and flooding. The public survey was commissioned by ICE to help highlight the need for greater public education on fatbergs – major sewer blockages caused by build-up of non-biodegradable items, such as wet wipes and congealed fats.

The research shows that just under a third of people (29%) have flushed wet wipes, with nearly a fifth of people (17%) flushing wet wipes some or all of the time. People also admitted to flushing other items, including tampons (29%), condoms (19%), plasters (15%), sanitary pads (13%) and nappies (5%). The main reasons people gave for flushing these items were that it’s more convenient or because they thought it was fine to do so.

A third of people (33%) reported that they pour fats and oils down the drain some or all of the time, with the majority doing so because they find it easy or more convenient than bin disposal.

Martyn Harvie, a principal civil engineer and ICE member, who appears in ICE’s water exhibition as the superhero character Drainage Dyno, said:

“Fatbergs are a growing problem for society today and urban areas are particularly affected, with their older infrastructure and dense populations. People are prone to ‘flush and forget’, not thinking about the environmental consequences. But responsible water management is vital for a sustainable future.

“By revealing the secrets beneath the sewers, ICE hopes to warn people ‘Don’t Feed the Fatberg’ and raise awareness of all the behind-the-scenes work that civil engineers do to manage our precious water resources. The public can play their part by binning rather than flushing items such as wet wipes. Oils and fats should be binned, or recycled where possible, rather than poured down the drain.”

Among the 61% of people who are aware of fatbergs, the research found that nearly 75% are also aware that wet wipes, including those which are currently branded flushable, do not break down in sewers and can contribute to fatbergs.

However, despite the overwhelming majority (95%) believing that they have a personal responsibility to help prevent fatbergs, only half would be willing to pay more to purchase ‘fine to flush’ wet wipes that will break down in sewers.

  • Vienn McMasters, communications business partner for ICE