The UK’s love of coffee shops and eating out shows no sign of abating - which is good news both for the hospitality industry and the wider UK economy. The number of coffee shops, for example, has reportedly more than doubled in the last 10 years.*
However, this expansion has come at a cost, specifically an increase in food waste and contributed to a huge and worrying increase in sewer blockages.
Recent estimates suggest there are now around 366,000 sewer blockages per annum across the country and 70% are caused by fat, oil and grease (FOG). Severn Trent alone reported in 2016 that it was clearing a mammoth "45,000 blockages a year”, and that “fat contributes to the majority of those [blockages]”
Why FOG Blocks Sewers
Although wet wipes have been cited as one of the main culprits for blocking sewers, greater focus should be given to the role played by FOG.
FOG causes sewers to block because hot fats and grease congeal as they cool, binding together other solids in the drainage pipe and adhering to any object in their path, including wet wipes, creating the now notorious ‘fat bergs’.
Sewer blockages cause huge disruption and a public health nuisance. They can also cause problems for individual food outlets including bad smells and blocked WCs.
Not surprisingly, blocking a sewer is a criminal offence and all businesses that handle or prepare food must adhere to a number of legally binding grease management procedures or potentially face prosecution. But for many kitchens, disposing of FOG is an expensive and frequently messy problem – which probably at least partly explains the issues with our drainage networks.
More Cost-Effective Ways of Managing FOG
However, new ways of recycling FOG offer commercially viable, environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional methodologies. What’s more, they offer good financial returns for food outlet owners.
First, sensors installed within grease traps are now able to automatically alert servicing teams that a trap needs emptying, eliminating the need for messy, manual checking grease traps by kitchen staff.
There is documented evidence that, alongside good kitchen practices and staff training, this helps lower costs and reduces pump-out frequency. An M&S store in Dublin, for example, reduced its pump-out frequency to once every three months, lowering operations costs by an estimated £2,600 per annum.
FOG as Fuel
But while removing FOG as a source of pollution is one thing, treating it as waste is quite another.
In fact, FOG has huge potential as an energy-rich source of fuel, and can be used as the bio-component for high grade, sustainable diesel for fleet operators. What’s more, this capability offers an attractive payback for food outlets, in partnership with strategic bio-fuel manufacturers.
It’s facilitated by the advances in remote monitoring. We’re aware, for example, that tanker companies cannot (currently) remotely monitor FOG levels in grease traps. But if tanker companies gather information from in-built sensor technology, they can then judge for themselves when to remove the grease, making the logistics and route planning far simpler. Added to which, it takes the burden of responsibility for monitoring the traps away from the restaurant.
We envisage a business model that allows tanker companies to get paid by bio-fuel companies for the FOG they collect and deliver. And given that we know it’s possible to achieve 15% yield or about 40 litres of fuel per trap, the payback time would be quick.
All it takes is a simple shift in thinking, and we have an opportunity that will lower greenhouse gas emissions, ensure the UK’s future (bio-)energy security, and give a commercial value to FOG disposal.
(UK coffee shops have increased from 10,000 in 2007 to 24,000 today, according to Allegra World Coffee Portal)
By James Curran, Kingspan’s Commercial Director
+44 28 3836 4600