Forget the royal wedding, if you’re in London right now take yourself along to see the ‘biggest’ attraction in town. The largest fatberg ever found, aka The Whitechapel Monster, is now on display at The Museum of London. It’s the first exhibit of its kind in the world, and while it may seem like an odd one, it’s a timely reminder that we are living in the age of waste.
The fatberg discovered in September 2017 by workers from Thames Water in London garnered international attention. The monstrous mass of congealed grease, wet-wipes and other sanitary items was 250-metres long, weighed more than 11 double decker buses and stretched the length of Tower Bridge. The Guardian reported that, it took a team of eight 'flushers', working nine hours a day, seven days a week in cramped and hazardous conditions, more than two months to remove.
At the time of the discovery, The Museum of London was halfway through a series of exhibitions about modern city living, and decided it must have a slice of it. Museum of London head of conservation and collection care Sharon Robinson-Calver said that the decision to preserve the piece initially led to shocked reactions, but then people realised “that it’s really relevant and a very valid story to be telling”.
When it comes to things they flush down the drain, most people have an out-of-sight out-of-mind mentality.
Curator of Fatberg Vyki Sparkes told The Guardian, “If you went up to someone in the street and asked them to talk about what they put down their toilet they would tell you to bog off, basically." But this is a way to open that conversation she continued. "We are not here to tell people how to behave, I am here to reflect how we live and to raise questions.”
The fatberg tells a story about how modern life is changing and the new crisis threatening the sewer systems of major cities. According to The Museum of London, eight times every hour a Thames Water customer suffers a blockage caused by items being flushed away or put down the drain which shouldn’t be.
Craig Rance, a campaigns executive at Thames Water told The Guardian. “We’re seeing a rise in the number of wipes being flushed down the toilet as people move away from toilet paper. And only one in 10 know how their drains work. People think the toilet is some magic portal that makes everything disappear, but it all has to go somewhere.”
While Australian fatbergs are yet to reach such monstrous proportions, we are definitely not immune. According to Michelle Cull from Queensland Urban Utilities (QUU), their workers clear around 4,000 fatbergs from Queensland drains each year, costing upwards of $1.5 million. "They either form a ball or a blockage or they line the inside surface of the pipe and extend many metres long," she told the ABC.
A spokesperson for Sydney Water’s told the SMH that Sydney-siders are also flushing large amounts of grease and wet-wipes down the drains. Blockages caused by these products cost the community millions of dollars every year in dealing with the issues these products cause in the wastewater system. They stated that up to 90 percent of blockages are caused by wet-wipes and sanitary items.
The exhibit is aimed at opening up dialogue around the disastrous effects that mindless flushing can have.
“We hope that people will take away the message that if you put fat, oil, grease, nappies, wet wipes down the toilet, down the sink, then you’re going to cause these monster blockages that could potentially flood the city and cost a lot of money to remove,” said Sharon Robinson-Calver.