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Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Drain

The local press has been in something of a fever over the past week or two about the perils of pouring cooking oil down the drain. And when we say local, we mean all those free local newspapers that pop through British people’s doors – and their related websites. They all refer to a YouGov report (which we’ve not been able to track down) that says something along the lines of: “X per cent of [insert local town] residents pour their cooking oil down the drain and Y per cent don’t know that they will have to pay for damage.” Here are a few examples for your delectation, from as far afield as Blackpool and Gloucestershire.

While we suspect this might be more of a PR exercise than actual news (there are plenty of mentions of one particular company, let’s just say), at the core of the story is a truth that we in the drain cleaning industry have long known: people do dispose of too much fat down the drains.

Now let’s get one thing clear – it’s impossible to never let any oil go down the drain. Every time you wash a frying pan or a plate that’s had food on it, it’s inevitable that oil and grease will be washed away. Householders and businesses might mitigate the effects by using detergents that break the oils down, and the amounts are often rather small too, but even if we think we’re being careful, it’s not impossible for a build-up to start.

We all know that butter, sandwich spread and lard are solids when they’re in the fridge, but melt at quite low temperatures – and that many oils and fats will return to solid form when they cool down to room temperature after being heated up. Well that’s exactly what happens to oils when we put them down the sink, where they can go from being liquid on the pan or plate to solid as soon as they hit the cool waste water underground. While we need to be mindful, under normal circumstances this won’t be a problem, largely thanks to the washing-up liquids and dishwasher tablets we use.

The real danger comes when people pour used oil straight down the sink, for example when they have been sautéing or doing a Sunday roast. We might even forget just how much oil or butter there is in gravy or béchamel sauce and pour any excess down the sink. But worst of all are those who will empty their deep-fat fryers straight down the kitchen sink. It’s only a matter of time before this practice will result in a blockage.

The “report” is also correct to point out that blockages are not always the responsibility of the local authorities or water companies –quite often it’s the householder who has to foot the bill. Landlords are particularly susceptible to unexpected unblocking bills because they might own several properties and with a high turnover of tenants in each, it would be difficult (and unfair) to pin the blame for a blockage on the current resident. At the very least, landlords should include a line about disposing of oil in their contracts. They might also consider installing grease traps, too.

So we say to the good people of Blackpool, Halifax, Gloucestershire, Hucknall, Swindon … “Stop and think – not down the sink” (the official mantra, apparently). It’s much better to get an old cooking oil bottle and a funnel and use it to keep your used oils. Many local authority recycling yards will now take it, and it can be burnt as a clean source of energy, so you’ll not only be avoiding blocked drains – you’ll be helping the planet too.