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Don't feed the fatberg! New ICE exhibition opens today

22 March 2019

The free exhibition at ICE's London headquarters challenges the public to think about the impact of what's flushed into sewers, as well as the role of civil engineers in society.

Don't feed the fatberg! New ICE exhibition opens today

Don’t Feed the Fatberg’ is a challenge issued to the UK public as ICE launches a new exhibition on water engineering on World Water Day (Friday 22 March 2019).

ICE research has found that that nearly 40% of UK adults remain unaware of fatbergs - major sewer blockages caused by build-up of non-biodegradable matter, such as wet wipes, and congealed fats – with significant percentages of people flushing fatberg-causing items down the loo or sink.

Following the success of ICE’s previous exhibition ‘Invisible Superheroes’, the new exhibition ‘Water: From Source to Tap’ continues with the theme of civil engineers as the unsung heroes who transform people’s lives.

Real-life engineers, past and present, have been reimagined as their cartoon superhero alter-egos, fighting fatbergs and flooding, and saving lives through the provision of clean water and sanitation.

The main installations include Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s Captain Sanitation character built of Lego bricks and a giant Fatberg Monster sculpture.

The exhibits celebrate Bazalgette’s 200th birthday this year and his pioneering work in creating the London sewer system, while also highlighting the modern-day challenge of fatbergs.

Martyn Harvie, a principal civil engineer who appears in ICE’s exhibition as Drainage Dyno, said:

“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.”

Inspiring engineers of the future

Through highlighting the stories of individual engineers and examples of water-related projects around the world, the exhibition also aims to inspire children and young people to consider careers in civil engineering.

Ayo Sokale, a graduate civil engineer who works for the Environment Agency in flooding and coastal risk management, and who appears in the exhibition as Eco Angel, said:

“Our profession is responsible for creating solutions to humanity’s major challenges, which are growing due to climate change and a rising population. Therefore, we need a diverse range of people with different experiences and ways of thinking to help formulate the answers.

“By showcasing the wealth of different roles and the difference they make to society, we can demonstrate how rewarding and creative a career in civil engineering can be.”

Flush and forget is commonplace

Just under a third of UK adults (29%) have flushed wet wipes, with nearly a fifth of people (17%) flushing wet wipes some or all of the time, according to the survey, which ICE commissioned to support the exhibition opening.

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 easier or more convenient than putting it in a bin.

What about flushable wet wipes?

Among the 60% of people who said they are aware of fatbergs, the research found that nearly 75% are also aware that wet wipes, including those which are currently branded flushable, don’t 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.

ICE's water campaign

The exhibition is part of ICE Knowledge’s wider learning campaign on water throughout 2019.

The campaign’s core aims are to raise awareness of issues facing the water sector and to equip water professionals with the knowledge they need.

The free exhibition is open Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm, excluding bank holidays, at ICE’s award-winning Infrastructure Learning Hub at One Great George Street, Westminster, London, SW1P 3AA.

  • Vienn McMasters, communications business partner for ICE