Certain sanitary products actually advise users to flush the items as the best way of disposal, but the reality is that no sanitary products whatsoever should be flushed down the toilet. Sanitary products contain hidden plastics that are non-woven into the fabric, which makes them non-biodegradable and causes significant blockages in pipes, drains and the sewer system. The problem is further compounded because they tend to expand when they absorb water.

Cleaners are often unaware of this fact too, and if there are items in or around the toilets to be disposed of, they may well assume that the best way to do so is to flush them down the toilet. Instead, they should be placed in designated sanitary disposal bins.

We recently conducted a survey into sanitary disposal habits and found that some 39% of people have flushed either a sanitary towel, panty liner or tampon down the toilet in their lifetime. Many of these habits begin at school age and if you consider the number of young women using the toilet facilities at schools, the extent of the potential problem becomes clear.

Paper towels are another common cause of blockages in toilets, with both cleaning staff and pupils often assuming they can be flushed down the drain in the same way as toilet paper. However, paper towels do not break down in the water in the same way as toilet paper and will remain in large clumps that can build up to create blockages.

While cleaning staff cannot always directly influence the behaviour of pupils, they could provide guidance in the form of posters or signage in the toilets that explains how best to get rid of different waste items. Signage on the back of the doors is a simple way of advising on sanitary disposal, and downloadable templates are readily available online.

FIGHTING FATBERGS All of the common issues outlined above are exacerbated when fats, oil and grease (FOGs) are also poured down the drain. FOGs are the biggest contributor to fatbergs, which are vast lumps of solid mass that sit in much of the British sewerage system. They are formed when a variety of items,

such as sanitary products, disposable wipes and nappies, combine with FOGs that have been poured down the drain. The FOGs solidify to create solid lumps that can grow to vast proportions.

One of the largest we have dealt with was the Whitechapel fatberg in London, measuring the length of 11 double decker buses and weighing 130 tonnes. The only way to remove fatbergs is to break them up into smaller chunks using industrial machinery, alongside manual excavation to extract the fatberg from underground.

“Sanitary products contain hidden plastics that are non-woven into the

fabric, making them non-biodegradable, causing significant blockages in pipes, drains and sewers.”

The most effective cure for fatbergs is to avoid creating them in the first place. Cleaners and catering staff have a crucial role to play in this, especially those who deal with cleaning catering zones in schools. If there are any FOGs to be disposed of, they should be placed in a bin or waste disposal unit, but never down the drain. While FOGs may start out in a liquid form, as soon as they cool in the sewer system they solidify and create a glue that helps form fatbergs. Clearing plates and cooking equipment into the bin rather than rinsing down the sink will also help in the fight against fatbergs.

Catering facilities should have an appropriate grease trap installed, that should be maintained correctly to ensure that it is kept in good working order. This type of grease waste can also be recycled and processed into biodiesel, providing effective environmental solutions to a smelly problem.


Lanes Group partners with several organisations that offer this solution, running a free fatberg fighters initiative for schools around the UK, with downloadable lesson plans for teachers to conduct an interactive lesson educating pupils on the dangers of fatbergs. Cleaning staff may well find it useful to engage teachers with this issue so that any future problems are dealt with before they become an issue.

Much of the guidance above can have immediate benefits and will prevent future problems, but there could well be issues lurking already. Cleaning staff who come across blockages in the meantime should not attempt to fix them, as pouring additional liquids down blocked drains can do more harm than good.

Instead, report the problem to the relevant point of contact within the school and they should appoint a relevant professional to assist with the problem. Many educational establishments have contracts with drainage experts, both for ongoing maintenance and emergency repairs, so they can embark upon the correct plan of action. EDUCATIONAL & SCHOOL FACILITIES | 47

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