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The titanic fatberg menace beneath our streets
August 6, 2013 4:26 AM   Subscribe

Londoners have bad drain habits: the removal of a 15 tonne 'fatberg' from the sewers beneath the suburb of Kingston has brought this double decker bus-sized issue back into the headlines.

The problem (or opportunity) is not new, and is exacerbated by London's ageing network of Victorian sewers. Thames Water has a team of 39 flushers, whose unenviable job is to keep the sewers running smoothly. In April, funding was approved for a 19MW power plant run on sewer fat and restaurant fat traps. More controversially, proposals for a new £4.2bn 'super sewer' are.. raising a stink because of the impact above ground.

But it could be worse. In China.. sewer oil is often illegally recycled for human consumption.

Previously:
- A Load of Old Tosh
- The major urban infrastructure that smelt it, dealt it
- Rivers lost and found
posted by MuffinMan (167 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
i love the interviews with the flushers. though i do hope those guys wear ventilators or something.
posted by fuzzypantalones at 4:37 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


hmm, eating breakfast right now, should I click the link?

...

*regret*
posted by indubitable at 4:38 AM on August 6, 2013 [11 favorites]


I just hope the fatberg doesn't absorb all the negative energy from Londoners and rise up onto the streets, wreaking havoc.
posted by TheAlarminglySwollenFinger at 4:44 AM on August 6, 2013 [43 favorites]


But, we've already got a Doctor Who thread open...
posted by Mizu at 4:51 AM on August 6, 2013 [13 favorites]


More controversially, proposals for a new £4.2bn 'super sewer' are.. raising a stink because of the impact above ground.

Hmm. The Thames Tunnel looks, to me, a great deal like TARP in Chicago. Formally, that's the Tunnel and Resivoir Plan, but you'll get more recognition from Chicagoans if you call it Deep Tunnel.

The problem, for both the London and Chicago sewer systems (which were built in about the same period) was that they're a combination of Sanitary and Storm sewers. Sanitary sewers take the, err, fully processed meal remnants away. Storm sewers drain rain water.

Since it's a combined system, both forms are sent to treatment plants, then released. However, if you get a lot of rain at once, you end up overflowing the sewers, and raw sewage escape. Not good.

To combat this, Chicago built TARP. The idea is a Sewer of Last Resort. If the storm inflow is too high, you dump the flow into the much lower Deep Tunnel, and then pump it to the reservoirs. After the storm, you pump it back into the regular sewer (but slower) and directly to treatment plants, clean it, and release it.

TARP has work very well, though it can be overwhelmed by truly epic rain -- however, rather than dozens of releases every year, Chicago sees maybe one release every three-four years, and as the system continues to build out, those continue to drop. It turns out that the best place to build these tunnels was where the water wanted to flow naturally, so by and large, the tunnels are built under the Chicago and Des Plaines rivers, and under the Sanitary & Ship Canal.

For one of the reservoirs, an agreement was setup with the owners of the Thorton Quarry. The MSWD gave the quarry mining rights, and the quarry is busy digging out the limestone. Soon, they'll be done, so they did the work of digging the quarry at no cost to the district, and they got the profit of selling the limestone. One of the few times I've seen a public-private partnership work exactly right.
posted by eriko at 4:53 AM on August 6, 2013 [28 favorites]


Somebody forgot to tell the viral marketers for del Toro's The Mountains of Madness that the movie didn't get greenlit.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:54 AM on August 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


I just hope the fatberg doesn't absorb all the negative energy from Londoners and rise up onto the streets, wreaking havoc.

Paging cstross. Cstross to the white courtesy phone.
posted by eriko at 4:54 AM on August 6, 2013 [17 favorites]


Spiders, serial killers, ebola, gas main explosions, falling pianos, zombies, robot rebellion, electrified metal sidewalk plates, child soldiers, global warming, poltergeists, forest fire, giant squid, terrorists, overzealous police, societal collapse, nuclear war, mistaken identity: none of these monsters keeps me awake at night.

But a "fatberg" the size of a double-decker bus? Ain't never gonna sleep again.

(Okay, I've lost a few nights' sleep to thoughts of robot rebellion, but honestly, who out there hasn't?)
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 4:55 AM on August 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


Given London's housing market, it's more surprising that a set of small flats wasn't carved into the middle of the fatberg.
posted by The River Ivel at 4:57 AM on August 6, 2013 [30 favorites]


Lard have mercy.
posted by Abiezer at 4:59 AM on August 6, 2013 [36 favorites]


"Paging cstross. Cstross to the white courtesy phone."

Or Ben Aaronovitch.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:59 AM on August 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


The entire article made my skin crawl.... humans... ugh... and human's waste... ugh
posted by greenhornet at 5:04 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


The water authority also issued a plea for householders to avoid disposing of fat and wipes through their drains.

Hmmm. I have a British friend whose would never pour bacon fat down the drain preferring to fry slices of toast in it.

But of course the fat still ends up going down the drain....
posted by three blind mice at 5:07 AM on August 6, 2013


The water authority subsequently discovered the 'fatberg' through CCTV investigation.

I knew London had a lot of security cameras, but this just seems excessive.
posted by orme at 5:11 AM on August 6, 2013 [12 favorites]


Two words: British cuisine.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:15 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sanitary wipes? Are we talking baby wipes here, or is this some British product I am unaware of?
posted by Rock Steady at 5:21 AM on August 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Every now and then a post comes along that you just know you shouldn't click on and probably especially so when you are munching your way through a tasty sandwich.
This I regret to say is one of them.
And then comes the more inside. I have decided it's a good day for dieting.
posted by adamvasco at 5:22 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yesterday, it was all about the Sergeiburger suffering because the Evil Vat-Dwelling Scientists couldn't grow fat cells in the lab. And now... this...

Hmmm.
posted by Devonian at 5:22 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have a friend, and American, who works for the China Daily in Beijing.
I do not at all understand why he continues to live in that country of his own volition.
I live in Tokyo. There but for the grace of god...
posted by GoingToShopping at 5:27 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


@Rock Steady

Yeah, moist wipes, baby wipes, those things.

I hate to link to the (spit) Daily Fail, but there is an increasing trend of using wipes instead of toilet paper in some upmarket areas like Kensington.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 5:28 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sanitary wipes? Are we talking baby wipes here, or is this some British product I am unaware of?

Wet Ones etc... the're a big problem (Daily Mail link)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 5:30 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ah, GallonOfAlan beat me to the flush...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 5:31 AM on August 6, 2013


I don't think the fat used in the 19MW generator is ever going to get down the sink, so not sure it really qualifies as 'sewer fat'. Which is a bit disappointing to me as I wanted to hear about the 'bergs being brought up for reuse.
posted by biffa at 5:32 AM on August 6, 2013


That first picture in the Independent article reminded me of the space baby shot from 2001. The Fatberg rising gracefully on the horizon.
posted by toots at 5:34 AM on August 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Hmmm. I have a British friend whose would never pour bacon fat down the drain preferring to fry slices of toast in it.

I know plenty of people who are paranoid about pouring waste oil down the drain in case it bogs up their pipes as it were - once it's cooled you can pour it into a disposable container, wait for it to solidify then put it in with the domestic waste (and of course there's always Dripping)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 5:35 AM on August 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yummay in my tummay.
posted by Namlit at 5:37 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just hope the fatberg doesn't absorb all the negative energy from Londoners and rise up onto the streets, wreaking havoc.

Insert Boris Johnson joke here.
posted by briank at 5:37 AM on August 6, 2013 [21 favorites]


Oh and stealing cooking oil is a big thing in the UK now
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 5:37 AM on August 6, 2013


Energy independence through tethered fatbergs!
posted by homerica at 5:38 AM on August 6, 2013


I was beginning to discuss this with a coworker, and her response to the name "fatburg" was "Is that the new Hardee's sandwich?"
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:38 AM on August 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


Ok, I have a solution to this problem, but we're gonna have to kidnap the cronut guy and build the world's largest fry daddy.
posted by nowhere man at 5:39 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


A lard lump the size of a bus
Created a big, stinking fuss
'Cause the grease and the wipes
Wound up clogging the pipes
And the source of the vileness was us.
posted by kinnakeet at 5:41 AM on August 6, 2013 [23 favorites]


GallonOfAlan: Yeah, moist wipes, baby wipes, those things.

Oh, that's too bad. I was thinking about adding some One Wipe Charlies to my DSC subscription. Are they as much a problem in US sewers as they are in the UK, or are our Sewers of Tomorrow more equipped to handle them than Ye Olde Shite-Pipes of London-Towne?
posted by Rock Steady at 5:47 AM on August 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Fatberg" is my street name, yo.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:50 AM on August 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


Fatberg Slime.
posted by pracowity at 6:00 AM on August 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


"Fatberg" is my street name, yo.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:50 PM on August 6


Eponysterical.
posted by Decani at 6:00 AM on August 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Fatberg Slime.

And his smash hit "The Rockafeller Stank".
posted by rory at 6:02 AM on August 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


I was buttering a nice slice of challah toast for breakfast when I started reading this, and now I kind of want to die.

Also, the China "gutter oil" article ruined not only my day but possibly my month. So thanks for the creeping horrors, MuffinMan!
posted by 1adam12 at 6:03 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


My years as a facility manager have made me the enemy of all wet wipes, because, no matter how "flushable" they claim to be, they are not flushable. Sure, you can flush them, and they'll sail down the pipes until they hit a little sclerotic burr in the waste pipe, and then they'll dangle there, waiting. Eventually, another will come along, and then they'll be two miserable little wipes marketed to histrionic germophobic clean freaks dangling there in the dark despairing channel of the drain line, and then another will come, and another, and the pipe will close in like the arteries on a fat old man until one day, they're just a plug. Then, shit will start piling up on that plug, and every new flush will make the plug longer and more gruesomely impacted until the day the toilets stop flushing and then

At that point, someone like me has to do something about it, and that something means opening up the nearest cleanout and fishing for the plug with a long, long hook on a metal tape, and when you manage to tear the plug apart, it frees up what's been behind the plug, fermenting like wormy rotting hellcheese, for weeks. At this point, it wants to rush somewhere, and one of those places is often the nearest cleanout, where you, the hapless maintenance man, are standing with your long, long hook on a metal tape, and you're very lucky in most instances if you don't get too much in your mouth when the sudden purge comes.

This is why I tell my tenants that I will actually murder them if I find that they're using paper towels and wet wipes—YES, EVEN THE GODDAMN FLUSHABLE ONES—because you really only want to taste a sample of a soup of other people's shit once in your life, and you sure as hell don't want to do it repeatedly because dimwitted panicninnies buy into an ad campaign intended to add crack anxiety to the litany of insecurities that megacorporate Koch-owned paper companies make up to sell their shitty, stupid products.

Plus, one can do the following: wipe one's ass with regular toilet paper, deposit that in the toilet, then follow up with a wet wipe and deposit that in the dainty floral trash can by the sink. It won't stink, dear hearts—I can make you that promise.

All the mess we get because people are scared of their own ass.


Besides, if you're really anxious about such things, you can buy a brilliant Japanese toilet seat that'll neatly solve all your mostly imaginary problems at once.
posted by sonascope at 6:08 AM on August 6, 2013 [128 favorites]


Toilet paper more or less disintegrates after a few minutes, sanitary wipes (baby wipes, clorox wipes etc) stay intact throughout the journey to the treatment plant. The most griping I've heard about disposable wipes is from the guys who work at sewage pumping stations. There's frequently a grinder that macerates the incoming solids so the pumps can handle them more effectively. Wipes stick to the screens, foul the grinders and generally wreak all sorts of havoc.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 6:14 AM on August 6, 2013


I one it...
posted by I'm Doing the Dishes at 6:18 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


nope nope nope nope nope nope nope nope *puke*
posted by louche mustachio at 6:24 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Biggest Ever Metaphor Found Under London Streets: "It Stinks, But You Can't Ignore It" Say Poet-Ecologists.
posted by Devonian at 6:25 AM on August 6, 2013 [11 favorites]


This seems as good a place as any for linking to the Humanure Handbook complete with poop song.

Disclaimer: I have no stakes in poo or the book, just remember the book from years ago, when it had been rejected by publisher after publisher and you could download it for free. Never read it beyond chapter headings, which were fun, but intend to get one (the loo, not the book) when I am fully maturing into having a place of my own (so, possibly never).
posted by miorita at 6:30 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Paging cstross. Cstross to the white courtesy phone."

Or Ben Aaronovitch.


If I recall correctly, a hideous emination of fat and cooking refuse from beneath the streets features in the 2nd or 3rd Matthew Swift novel by Kate Griffin.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:31 AM on August 6, 2013


you can buy a brilliant Japanese toilet seat that'll neatly solve all your mostly imaginary problems at once.

Brilliant Japanese toilets have problems of their own.

Sounds to me this is more a case for Professor Quatermass than Doctor Who...
posted by misteraitch at 6:34 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Toilet paper more or less disintegrates after a few minutes, sanitary wipes (baby wipes, clorox wipes etc) stay intact throughout the journey to the treatment plant. The most griping I've heard about disposable wipes is from the guys who work at sewage pumping stations. There's frequently a grinder that macerates the incoming solids so the pumps can handle them more effectively. Wipes stick to the screens, foul the grinders and generally wreak all sorts of havoc.

...and actually get you clean after doing your business.

If we had bidets, this wouldn't matter.
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:34 AM on August 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


life is like a hurricane

here in fatburg
posted by elizardbits at 6:36 AM on August 6, 2013 [17 favorites]


If baby wipes are an actual problem, local governments that need to provide sewer systems should just ban the sale of baby wipes or put a tax on them to pay for the extra treatment and machinery they require. That would drive the development and sales of baby wipes that don't clog the sewers, sewers that don't roll over and die when regular baby wipes come through, and fancy toilets with built-in bidets.
posted by pracowity at 6:37 AM on August 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


If we had bidets, this wouldn't matter.

I'll unclog toilet lines all day long before I wash my ass with other people's butt particles.
posted by gjc at 6:37 AM on August 6, 2013


The simple solution is for people to throw their wipes in the trash. Retrofitting the sewers to accomodate something like this is a lot more expensive and difficult than you might think. In some cities (depending on topography) you could have literally thousands of grinders that would need to be upgraded.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 6:42 AM on August 6, 2013


And that still doesn't solve the problem of wipes getting snagged in the pipeline somewhere that sonascope described upthread.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 6:44 AM on August 6, 2013


If we hadn’t discovered it in time, raw sewage could have started spurting out of manholes across the whole of Kingston.

Not being a resident of Kingston, I would love to have seen this.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:54 AM on August 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


The only way to defeat a hideous emination of fat and cooking refuse from beneath the streets is to enlist the help of a Golgothan. You don't want to be in the position of owing a Golgothan a favour.

We expend a lot of energy as a society getting food into our shops, restaurants etc., some of which we then consume and excrete as if it were valueless. I wonder what the embodied carbon figures are?

gjc - What kind of bidet are you using, it sounds like it might have a fault.
posted by asok at 6:54 AM on August 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


sonascope: dimwitted panicninnies buy into an ad campaign intended to add crack anxiety to the litany of insecurities that megacorporate Koch-owned paper companies make up to sell their shitty, stupid products

I appreciate your comment, but that's a very shitty attitude (no pun intended). A wet wipe does a great job getting your ass clean -- much better than toilet paper. I'm not a "histrionic germophobic clean freak", and it's not a matter of "insecurity" or "crack anxiety", it's a matter of getting shit off my ass efficiently. I had no idea they present a sewage problem, and I'm not sure how I could be expected to know that when the package indicates that they are flushable. It's a great idea to spread the word about the problems they create, but take your rage out on the manufacturers, not on the consumer who is using the product as indicated.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:56 AM on August 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


I want to vote sonascope for post of the year.
We can do that soon, right?

Let him taste the pleasant taste of victory! (not, you know, a sample of a soup of other people's shit).

I've gotta agree with sonascope (and I suppose Rock Steady), I had no idea of sewers were so crap .... until we had a neighbourhood-wide shit geyer in our yard.
posted by Mezentian at 6:59 AM on August 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


Notice: there is no digital, static-y hum coming from the fatberg, Mayor Boris Johnson announced today. The mayor stressed repeatedly in his ninety-second impromptu press conference that there is no unbearable, soul-tearing sound that rips at the sinews of your very being coming from the fatberg. Mayor Johnson continued with a plea for all London residents to understand that there could not possibly be a deeply coded message emanating from an enormous lump of disposable wipes and fat. Citizens are not even supposed to be consciously aware of the fatberg, so they could not possibly be receiving a menacing and unearthly voice instructing listeners to bring precious metals and toddlers to the fatberg. “Fatberg," he repeated. “That could never, ever be real," the mayor shouted, pounding the podium with his bleeding fists. There were no follow-up questions.

With apologies to the wonderful people at Night Vale community radio.
posted by emmtee at 7:04 AM on August 6, 2013 [11 favorites]


Well, if you grow up in houses with old plumbing, as I did, you learn very quickly that basically nothing is really flushable. Maybe a minute amount of toilet paper but, uh, that would be about it. Did nobody else's mother give them lengthy lectures on how to NEVER FLUSH ANYTHING that isn't absolutely necessary? And then grow up and give the same lecture to their own children? Tampax are just as bad as wipes if not worse. If you have really seriously old plumbing - hello, Baltimore! I hear your woes, sonascope! - then you can figure that it can't even handle the human results of, erm, modern diets. Thus you had damn well better expect to flush halfway through, if you get my drift, because if you don't you will probably not enjoy the result.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:04 AM on August 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Given London's housing market, it's more surprising that a set of small flats wasn't carved into the middle of the fatberg.

You just know that somewhere some property developer saw this and said out loud "I wonder..."
posted by generichuman at 7:05 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


So that's where I left it!
posted by Flunkie at 7:07 AM on August 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


In related news, shares of Adipose Industries plummeted by over 20% in early-morning trading today....
posted by schmod at 7:08 AM on August 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


All the mess we get because people are scared of their own ass.

To be fair, a lot of wipes are sold to people attending to babies' asses, not their own. Toilet paper doesn't work for long if you wet it, but if you use it dry it can feel like using sandpaper on baby skin, and no parent wants that. Still, it's easy enough to bundle used wipes into a disposable nappy, if that's what you're using, to keep them out of the sewers.

This seems as good a place as any for linking to the Humanure Handbook complete with poop song.

Surely the more breathtaking link is the Ladies of Manure 2013 Calendar.
posted by rory at 7:10 AM on August 6, 2013


gjc - What kind of bidet are you using, it sounds like it might have a fault.

The spout for the water is in the same basin as the drain, right? So after running the water, some of the gravy must drip back into the spout, ready to be misted upon the next user's posterior.

You might as well walk into a bathroom, see that the toilet has not been flushed by the previous user, sit down and then flush it. Particles!
posted by gjc at 7:11 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Can't make this shit up.

Literally.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 7:12 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fatberg ‏@KingstonFatberg 22m
SQUATTER'S RIGHTS MATE YOU CAN'T TOUCH ME

It's on Twitter, naturally.
posted by emmtee at 7:12 AM on August 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I hear you sonascope. Kitchen towels are just as bad at not disintegrating, as I discovered when I lived downhill from some lazy students who were too stoned to remember to buy toilet paper. Just hoping you were not a beardy person* at the time.

Is there any published research on the effectiveness of toilet paper vs wet wipes vs bidet cleaning? The people want to know.

gjc, have you ever used a bidet? Also, gravy *chortle*

* He must be confident that there wont be any splashback!
posted by asok at 7:14 AM on August 6, 2013


Huh? What are y'all doing with your butts that they have to be eat-off-it-clean? No, you know what, I don't want to know.

(and on the baby wipes note: yet another reason babies are ruining our planet. I know, I know, with the axe and the grinding, I'm just sayin' is all...)
posted by Mooseli at 7:20 AM on August 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I want to vote sonascope for post of the year.
Shitty post of the year, maybe.

This is why I tell my tenants that I will actually murder them if I find that they're using paper towels and wet wipes.

Nice logic there, killer. The problem seems to be flushing them, not using them.

And I'm pretty sure it's not being a "histrionic germophobic clean freak" figuring out that if I got shit anywhere else on me I wouldn't be happy just rubbing the spot with dry paper until I couldn't see it any more. I'd use soap and water most likely, right?
posted by bonaldi at 7:20 AM on August 6, 2013


I have an aftermarket bidet. Love it. I'm still on the same package of TP I bought in March.

gjc: that's not how it works. The nozzle lives just under the seat and gets nowhere near the basin. It is retractable too, and can't be touched by anything entering the toilet. The water comes from a tap placed in the incoming water supply, so it doesn't use any toilet water. Turn the dial, the nozzle pokes out and sprays. Turn it off and the nozzle retracts back into its hiding place, isolated from the world. Gjc, what I think you are picturing must be a nightmare.

I'm a little put off anytime I have to use a normal toilet now, using all that paper like some sort of caveman or something.
posted by sourwookie at 7:21 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Can't they make wet wipes biodegradable? Or do things just not rot properly in the (anaerobic?) environment of the sewer?

Or could one make paper (or whatever the substrate is) held together with a binding agent which starts to disintegrate on contact with a chemical commonly found in faeces or sewage?
posted by acb at 7:22 AM on August 6, 2013


Damn they must've had one big-ass angioplasty balloon.
posted by Mister_A at 7:24 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure how I could be expected to know that when the package indicates that they are flushable.

I think this represents a general reluctance on the part of the mainstream public to ever think about anything farther down the line than the immediate moment. Manufacturer instructions are one of those things that should always be questioned, like why are you supposed to shampoo, rinse, then repeat (answer: because you'll buy twice as much shampoo), or why you're told to use two Alka-Seltzer tablets instead of one. People are insecure, and things that make them more insecure sell more products. We also love to be told what to do, so if they tell us we can't shave properly with less than a full tiny venetian blind razor with eleven blades, we go along and buy tiny venetian blind razors with eleven blades.

The rise of marketing that invents a "need" for wet wipes for adults is perfectly suited to our don't-think-about-the-future mode as well as to our inability to understand when things are and are not problems. My parents' generation didn't kill us with diseases spread by asses not kept as clean as NASA satellite assembly halls, and they didn't reek of shit at all times, so it's just weird that we've suddenly have a need to be so clean. It's not a public health issue, it's not really a social issue, unless crack-spreaders become de rigeur at the nudist camp—it's just another insecurity fad.

Look—I'm a big ol' fag, and those of us who dig the rear guard action are more than aware of how to keep a butt clean, and flushing wet wipes down the magical make-it-go-away hole afterward is not a necessary part of the action. You can have the best of all worlds with just a tiny bit of forethought.
posted by sonascope at 7:24 AM on August 6, 2013 [40 favorites]


Or could one make paper (or whatever the substrate is) held together with a binding agent which starts to disintegrate on contact with a chemical commonly found in faeces or sewage?

Sure. It's called toilet paper, and the chemical is H2O.
posted by rory at 7:25 AM on August 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


It is nice having a clean butt, but I am in the "a little water beats a lot of paper any day" camp as well.
posted by Mister_A at 7:26 AM on August 6, 2013


Nice logic there, killer. The problem seems to be flushing them, not using them.

Which is why I said exactly that in what I wrote in my fourth paragraph. Did you miss that in your lurch into outrage over what was just so obviously aimed directly at you personally?
posted by sonascope at 7:27 AM on August 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


All the mess we get because people are scared of their own ass.

Amen. I think almost the entire arsenal of cleaning products, and the gazillion dollar industry they support, can be traced to this very fear. I'm all for basic hygiene, but I suspect that these chemicals are probably making us (and the environment) more sick than the dirty "bugs" we're so anxious to eliminate. And could it be that by seeking to make our environments as sterile as possible we're also slowly de-programming our immune systems of their ability to fight potential infections?

People have been pooping since the beginning of time -- do we really need to complicate this process now? I'm always skeptical of products invented to deal with invented problems.
posted by nowhere man at 7:29 AM on August 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Did you just say arsenal of [butt] cleaning products?

Well, I tittered.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:31 AM on August 6, 2013


DAMN YOU PAULA DEEN!
posted by stltony at 7:32 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Did you just say arsenal of [butt] cleaning products?

Don't start a war with me -- you'll get reamed.
posted by nowhere man at 7:35 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


No need to get arsey
posted by asok at 7:36 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


No need to get arsey

I was going to say "flushed", but yeah let's keep it civil, guys. Thanks.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 7:38 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think almost the entire arsenal of cleaning products, and the gazillion dollar industry they support, can be traced to this very fear.

It's fear and magical thinking.

We think of the toilet, the trash can, the atmosphere, and the ocean as magical make-it-go-away holes with a childish faith normally left behind when we become adults, and for some insane reason (definitely not labeling laws, which manufacturers fight at every turn) we trust the manufacturers to tell us the actual truth. That's okay in the pre-internet era, but now? Not so much.

If people took the time to understand the various food chains, so to speak, involved in their daily lives, the world would be a much better place. That, and the fact that I've often had to clean up what results from that willful ignorance, is why I'm grouchy about such things.
posted by sonascope at 7:40 AM on August 6, 2013 [9 favorites]


Sonoscope's phrase "wormy rotting hellcheese" is a good one, and the post deserves plaudits.
posted by Agave at 7:41 AM on August 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


The rise of marketing that invents a "need" for wet wipes for adults is perfectly suited to our don't-think-about-the-future mode as well as to our inability to understand when things are and are not problems.

IDK man, most of the people I know who regularly use baby wipes (and who are not baby owners) use them because their IBS/other medical issues means they spend a lot of time wiping their butts. If you do it all day long with dry paper eventually you start bleeding. You can sneer all you want at them though obviously.
posted by elizardbits at 7:42 AM on August 6, 2013 [13 favorites]


nowhere man: People have been pooping since the beginning of time -- do we really need to complicate this process now? I'm always skeptical of products invented to deal with invented problems.

People have also been coming up with better and cleaner and more efficient ways to poop since shortly after the beginning of pooping. Your comment could have been made 200 years ago about indoor plumbing, but I don't think you would call that a product invented to deal with an invented problem.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:44 AM on August 6, 2013


I found out a few years ago the hard way (to the tune of $200ish for the pipe unclogging) that the flushable wipes weren't.
posted by mrbill at 7:51 AM on August 6, 2013


People have also been coming up with better and cleaner and more efficient ways to poop since shortly after the beginning of pooping

Huh? Not to nitpick but I think pooping might predate people.

[N.B. That's predate "like pre-date"]
posted by iotic at 7:51 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


We should all just go back to the classic method of dragging our bare soiled buttocks over the drying grasses of the savanna. If it was good enough for our hunting-gathering ancestors then by god it should be good enough for us!
posted by elizardbits at 7:52 AM on August 6, 2013 [12 favorites]


MetaFilter: dragging our bare soiled buttocks over the drying grasses of the savanna

There were... so many... to choose from!
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:55 AM on August 6, 2013 [9 favorites]


Egyptian and other sewer systems in some less developed countries can't deal with toilet paper so you put used toilet paper in a little waste bin by the side of the toilet. This is sorta fine when everything is A-OK. Until you are boiling hot and stuck on a felucca, and stupidly decide to go for a swim in the Nile, get dysentry and spend several hours each morning on the can for the next month. Not that this has happened to me, of course.

There's nothing to stop people using wipes. The issue, as it regards things that foul up sewer systems, is not flushing them down the toilet.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:56 AM on August 6, 2013


Which is why I said exactly that in what I wrote in my fourth paragraph. Did you miss that in your lurch into outrage over what was just so obviously aimed directly at you personally?

I saw it, and the "Plus" it began with. So if your tenants escape your slaughter, and stop using wet wipes as you demand, rather than flushing the wet wipes they, er, don't use on pain of death, they can then bin them? Yep, comment of the year right there, champ.

People have been pooping since the beginning of time -- do we really need to complicate this process now? I'm always skeptical of products invented to deal with invented problems.

They generally used water to clean themselves, too. The history of this is actually quite interesting. Toilet paper's been around -- and been criticised for being unhygenic -- since 800 AD.
posted by bonaldi at 7:57 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


You can sneer all you want at them though obviously.

Except I'm not sneering at them, obviously or otherwise. I'm sneering at the people who buy into the ad campaigns that are clearly not about addressing a medical need, but are instead addressing the desire of corporations to create new markets where little need exists, and where more practical and responsible solutions exist. If you're really desperate for a moist wipe, all you need is a spray bottle of clean plain water sitting on the toilet tank. Fold your toilet paper, spritz, and there you go, without clogging the system.

Besides, I'm not sneering, anyway. That's a smirk with rolled eyes at best.
posted by sonascope at 7:57 AM on August 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


elizarbits, while I feel sorry for such people it still behooves them to think about where things go when they are flushed.

'the savanna' was more likely the cack hand in the stream. But they probably didn't have IBS, so the tissue wouldn't have been such an issue.
posted by asok at 7:58 AM on August 6, 2013


Not to nitpick but I think pooping might predate people.

[N.B. That's predate "like pre-date"]


Speaking of the other definition ("like predator"), I spent far too much of my commute in today trying to figure out how SyFy could add sharks to the fatberg mix to create their next low budget masterpiece.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:04 AM on August 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wow. So a guy, part of whose job it is to clean up the horrible clogs caused by wipes, describes how horrible it is (and, having cleaned out a grease trap once in my life, I can only sympathize with the tiniest iota of the liveliest awefulness he describes), and the response is to attack and mock him for it? I mean, really, "you can't tell me how to wipe my butt!" is the hill where you want to plant your flag?
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:07 AM on August 6, 2013 [30 favorites]


Fold your toilet paper, spritz, and there you go, without clogging the system.

For those of us blessed with a brillo pad of asshole hair, this technique results in a constellation of tiny paper pills that work their slow way through the dark tangle until, when next the underpants are removed, they float down to the floor like slightly soiled newfallen snow.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 8:11 AM on August 6, 2013 [17 favorites]


While we're on the topic, here's some other things you should and should not do:

1. Scrape your dishes into the trash before washing them (either by hand or by machine).
2. Never flush anything but human waste and toilet paper.
3. Use the sink disposal unit as little as possible.
4. Never, ever, ever put any fats or oils down the drain.
5. Don't plant trees on top of the sanitary line from your house to the main.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 8:11 AM on August 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


I mean, really, "you can't tell me how to wipe my butt!" is the hill where you want to plant your flag?

Not so much that hill as the "don't be an arsehole to people just because you had a shitty job once" mountain.

Investigating what products your tenants use in their bathrooms? Pouring scorn on people for being advertising sheeple (which we all are to some extent, even those who insist they're better than all that)? Sneering (yes, sneering) at "dimwitted panicninnies" with "mostly imaginary problems" when in fact there are plenty of actual problems that make people want to use wet wipes?

All of that adds up to being a dick, to me. It would be fine (and right!) to say "don't flush wet wipes; the consequences are foul beyond imagining". The rest of the attack is contemptuously horrible.
posted by bonaldi at 8:15 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


contemptuously horrible

Outrageously hyperbolic!
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 8:17 AM on August 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


Like making fatbergs out of lard hills!
posted by nowhere man at 8:20 AM on August 6, 2013 [12 favorites]


People, people. It's a fatberg, not a wipesicle. Let's focus for a moment on all that molten lard people are pouring down their sinks. Gallons of grease gurgling down the drain, congealing into globules of gunk. Big, bubbling pots of boiling butter and bacon. Drip, drip, drips of dripping.
posted by rory at 8:22 AM on August 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Investigating what products your tenants use in their bathrooms?

When someone else has to come in and work several hours to unblock and clean up the nasty mess caused by your poor bathroom choices, you're probably beyond the point where you can indignantly defend your Eighteenth Amendment Right to Secret Poop Techniques.

But all that aside, I can't get this horrendous fatberg out of my mind's eye. I can't.
posted by forgetful snow at 8:25 AM on August 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


[Friendly reminder: topic is shitty, you don't have to be. Thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 8:26 AM on August 6, 2013 [22 favorites]


Well, it's both. The fatbergs aren't just a big slug of grease, they're a heterogenous mixture of fat, wipes, human waste and miscellaneous debris. The grease congeals on the side of the pipe, then whatever is floating down the waste stream sticks to the grease. More grease comes down the pipe and deposits another layer and on and on.

The worst part? Sometimes they still smell kind of like food.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 8:26 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't get this horrendous fatberg out of my mind's eye.

Horrendous fatberg caught in your mind's eye? You need all-new Fat Wipes™.
posted by rory at 8:27 AM on August 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Egyptian and other sewer systems in some less developed countries can't deal with toilet paper so you put used toilet paper in a little waste bin by the side of the toilet.

Yeah, it's a problem in a lot of the older hutong neighborhoods in China as well. The solution I've seen is a diaper-bin setup for a garbage pail (as in a pail with a close-fitting lid that is nevertheless fairly simple to open one-handed) and then everything goes into the trash. It works fairly well except when the bin men are doing a less than stellar job, and then you have narrow poorly-lit footpaths covered in poop stuffs.
posted by elizardbits at 8:32 AM on August 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


People, people, we're loosing sight of the real question here. Were the wipes used while sitting or standing?
posted by penguinicity at 8:39 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


It would be fine (and right!) to say "don't flush wet wipes; the consequences are foul beyond imagining". The rest of the attack is contemptuously horrible.

This is some sort of "Letter to the Times" comedy post, right? I half-expect a "Yours etc., Colonel Sir Abercrombie Smith-Smythe-Smith (Mrs.)" at the end in a Graham Chapman voice.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:40 AM on August 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


I can't get this horrendous fatberg out of my mind's eye.

Be sure to remove the horrendous fatberg from your own eye before you presume to remove the ghastly fatsplinter from your neighbor's.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:40 AM on August 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Having been doused from head to toe by dozens of gallons of well-fermented shit on an alarming number of occasions in the process of unplugging "flushable" nightmare scenarios does give me a perspective and a relatively good qualification to demonstrate a bit of exaggerated frustration (in my case, usually manifest in strings of grotesque overstatement for humorous effect). I could mince around with vague and veiled statements like "don't flush wet wipes; the consequences are foul beyond imagining," which is about as effective of the first two decades of saying "smoking is probably not very good for you," or I can just tell it like it is, from my own perspective, without naming names or pointing fingers at particular people and with appropriate emphasis.

I have yet to see anyone demonstrate the "plenty of actual problems" that exist in proportion to the actual usage of wet wipes, but I see a lot of people being outraged, outraged that anyone would suggest that there are dumb reasons to use a product that should really be constrained to its original, intended use because of the poor balance of cost/benefit. IBS, hemorrhoids, rectal fissures and such—those would be legit reasons to use wipes, but the incidence of those things and actual usage is way, way off of what the industry itself reports.

One of the reasons I always feel a little defensive about such things comes from my time running the facilities for a museum. We had a ton of people coming through, largely in white, middle/upper-middle class demographics, and the way people treated the bathrooms was appalling, partly because people become filthy, thoughtless animals in the privacy of the bathroom, and partly because the wreckage they left behind was cleaned up by people at the bottom of the blue collar pay scale, largely women and minorities, who were and are expected to do the lousy jobs and hold their noses and mop up dried shit spray from people who can't be bothered to read the stats on the limted biological diversity of toilet seats (a phone is orders of magnitude more germy) and who hover and splatter instead, like yes—dimwitted panicninnies.

This sort of class distinction is pretty clear once you've worked in the trenches, and it's why I'm not particularly sensitive to the choices of the bathroom users who don't understand why I'm being "a dick" by irritably pointing out the consequences of thoughtless actions instead of cloaking the message in double entendre and delicacy to the point of ineffectual expression. Using wet wipes for something other than a medical need means people who make very little money have to do more work to support a cleaning habit not justified by science, and if you just disposed of the wipes in a trash can, the problem would go away. Easy, right?

And yet people don't do it, because they buy into a catalogue of myths and operate on a shrug and a sense of entitlement. That's what irks me.
posted by sonascope at 8:44 AM on August 6, 2013 [41 favorites]


When I studied abroad, we were instructed not to flush toilet paper at all, as apparently the pipes at the university couldn't handle it. And you know what, we all got totally used to it and it didn't smell bad at all and everything was fine and dandy.

Use all the wet wipes you want. Then, put then in the trash. PROBLEM SOLVED.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:48 AM on August 6, 2013


Oh good, they found yo mama down there. I was starting to get worried about her.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:48 AM on August 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


Paging cstross. Cstross to the white courtesy phone.

How about jscalzi?
posted by Gelatin at 8:49 AM on August 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Even if you wipe perfectly, you all know the next fart is putting tiny poop particles all over your area anyway, right?
posted by mikeh at 8:56 AM on August 6, 2013


Today I learned of flushable baby wipes. I have for many years bought the generic item at my grocery store, three dollars for a roll of a hundred and it says plainly on the label "do not flush" with one of those diagonol slashy icons and it also says "No tirarlas en el inodoro" in case your Espanol happens to be superior to your Ingles.

I suppose having a baby wipe with a small poop stain on it sitting inside your garbage is so horrifying to some of my fellow humans that the flushable baby wipe needed to be invented. I am skeptical. Google returned this from the skeptics stack exchange:

INDA and EDANA are industry groups representing the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry. They have defined Flushability Guidelines. The full spec is kept behind a $3000 paywall, but the Executive Summary explains:

For a product to be flushable it must:

* Clear toilets and properly maintained drainage pipe systems under expected product usage conditions;
* Be compatible with existing wastewater conveyance, treatment, reuse and disposal systems; and
* Become unrecognizable in a reasonable period of time and be safe in the natural receiving environments.

Organisations such as NSF International provide a certification service for showing your product conforms to the guidelines. Once you have been certified, you can display a "Certified Flushable" mark.

Whether a particular product that you see on the shelves is, in fact, Certified Flushable, depends on the particular brand and product.


With toilet clogs you are far better off being safe than being real real real sorry.
posted by bukvich at 8:59 AM on August 6, 2013


INDA and EDANA are industry groups representing the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry. They have defined Flushability Guidelines.

Such riveting meetings those must have been.

I picture them making awkward jokes during bathroom breaks. "Well, Dan, time to test those Flushability Guidelines! Har har."
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:08 AM on August 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I had something called a "fatball" at the state fair once. If this is a bigger version of that then: delicious.
posted by user92371 at 9:11 AM on August 6, 2013


The worst part? Sometimes they still smell kind of like food.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 11:26 AM on August 6 [1 favorite +] [!]


Eponysterically grosslicious.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:13 AM on August 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


How about jscalzi?

The Ghost Bidets? The Humus Division?
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:32 AM on August 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


If I ever, even just once, got an explosion of, ahem, sewage all up in my facial region, and could attribute it in any conceivable way to someone else's sense of entitlement or hyper-hygiene, I would from that point on hate every single human on the planet and let them know it.

Sonascope's demeanor seems not only justified, but perhaps a little too calm. Like, I worry about what will happen when the gloves really come off (so to speak) kind of calm.
posted by allthinky at 9:48 AM on August 6, 2013 [12 favorites]


Using wet wipes for something other than a medical need means people who make very little money have to do more work to support a cleaning habit not justified by science, and if you just disposed of the wipes in a trash can, the problem would go away. Easy, right?

You keep doing this. "Using wet wipes" (for any purpose, even making poop doilies) is not the same thing as "flushing wet wipes".

Conflating the two is making this all equivalent to "fat in sewers is godawful, and these toffs who are being suckered by schmancy advertising into the idea that they need to cook their food in oil are just rich scum who need to die. I will decapitate any tenant of mine who cooks with oil" with a side-chorus of "yeah! in the caves nobody cooked with fat! Screw modern society!"

There's nothing "vague" about "don't flush wet wipes". What's worse than being vague is completely missing the target, by railing against the use of wet wipes when the disposal is what matters.
posted by bonaldi at 9:48 AM on August 6, 2013


Bonaldi, this isn't worth having a scrap over.
Fighting on Mefi is to be avoided
Like wiping with harsh, dry paper
On butts that are heavily haemorroided,
And then flushing away forever.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:56 AM on August 6, 2013


You keep doing this. "Using wet wipes" (for any purpose, even making poop doilies) is not the same thing as "flushing wet wipes".

Only you keep assuming that I conflate "using wet wipes" with "using them while disposing of them in a trash can" when what I clearly mean, and have stated repeatedly, is "using AND FLUSHING wet wipes." Given that you decided to make this whole thing personal by calling me a "dick," "killer," and "champ" in the same exact conversational hyperbole you fault me for using and otherwise inventing sinister actions on my part ("Investigating what products your tenants use in their bathrooms?" is pretty asinine, given the fact that the extent of this horribly intrusive "investigation" comes down to (a) asking my tenants directly and (b) noticing, when I'm frequently called in to plunge their toilet, that there's a big box of wipes on the top of the toilet and none in the open trash can next to the toilet), I'm unlikely to get past your ever-rising bar for debating excellence, let me specify this even more clearly:

I am against using wet wipes in a way that includes flushing them.

Is that clear enough for you? Is it clearer than:

Plus, one can do the following: wipe one's ass with regular toilet paper, deposit that in the toilet, then follow up with a wet wipe and deposit that in the dainty floral trash can by the sink. It won't stink, dear hearts—I can make you that promise.

Or:

Using wet wipes for something other than a medical need means people who make very little money have to do more work to support a cleaning habit not justified by science, and if you just disposed of the wipes in a trash can, the problem would go away.

But by all means, carry on going after the guy you think I am, and the argument you think I'm making. It's your time to flush away.
posted by sonascope at 10:01 AM on August 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


[sonascope/bonaldi, let's end this here, shall we?]
posted by jessamyn at 10:02 AM on August 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


In the interest of going in another conversational direction, I'll just say that, if one is unsure of what to do with one's kitchen grease, saving it up in paper cups in the freezer, then rendering it down a bit and making soap is a very worthwhile endeavour. I've used methods similar to this one and it's pretty easy to master and a satisfying activity, not least because you're getting something essentially for free (less the change for a bit of lye) and making cool stuff.
posted by sonascope at 10:09 AM on August 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Huh. You learn something every day. I had no idea that people used wet wipes for, uh, toilet stuff. My mom did try to give me some "flushable wipes" once when my kids were small and I remember looking at them and thinking there's no way in hell those are sewer safe. Anything you could saturate with water, wring out, and use again without it breaking up just shouldn't go down the pipes. A few squares of toilet paper at a time should work.

It makes sense that they would be better at cleaning you in certain situations but it seems like they just wouldn't be necessary most of the time unless you had a condition or crazy diet. Seems like the trash can solution would be best, but mostly seems like overmarketing of something not that useful.

Full disclosure: There are lots of similar wasteful-seeming disposable products that I feel weird using: bottled water, "K-Cups", those little dental pick things with the floss strected across a plastic wishbone ... someone must want them but the old-fashioned solutions of tap water, coffee pot, and floss on a roll don't really seem like they have some major flaw.
posted by freecellwizard at 10:10 AM on August 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ghostbusters 2?
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 10:17 AM on August 6, 2013


misteraitch: "Brilliant Japanese toilets have problems of their own."

Hah, you could totally make people believe in Polterpotties.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 10:30 AM on August 6, 2013


Are wet wipes all paper? Or, in the quest for perfect butt-cleansing, are they now reinforced with plastic fibers? If your butt needs such serious cleaning, you might want to consider a healthier diet. Toilet paper seems to be a reasonable and effective product.

I have a septic system. So I don't have a garbage disposal, and I'm pretty careful about keeping oil & grease out of the septic tank. Plus, wiping grease from a pan with a paper towel makes a nice little fire-starter, which will be used for the woodstove. If it goes in the trash, it will go to the trash-to-energy plant.
posted by theora55 at 10:31 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I want a sockpuppet named dimwitted panicninny, for askening eckstra-silly qeustionz.
posted by theora55 at 10:34 AM on August 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


The sanitary wipes are certainly an issue, but the main source of FOG (fats, oils, grease) in my experience are commercial kitchens with poorly maintained grease traps. Pretty much every fried chicken place will have grease issues downstream, but so do hospital cafeterias and food processing facilities. The worst I've ever seen was a 12' slug of grease in an 8" pipe that came out in one continuous piece. The next upstream user was a chocolate easter egg factory.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 10:42 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]



I got an early education in what happens when stuff goes down the drain. My Dad was an engineer with Environment Canada and one summer we combined our family vacation with a trip my Dad had to make to various facilities. We camped at a nice park while Dad went off to do his thing. I begged to go with him one day and he finally relented. I have to say that the probably one of the best field trips to illuminate what happens would be to take kids to a sewage treatment plant.
Beyond the smell I remember one of the workers telling me his job was to remove obvious non biodegradable 'things' from the tanks. I got to see globs of sanitary pads and tampons floating in sludgy crap and who knows what some of the other things were. I was young enough that I didn't know what the heck those things were for so my first part of sex education came at a sewage treatment plant. lol

My Mom always said don't put anything down the toilet or drain and after that I knew why. I can't even consider flushing anything without seeing that glob of tampons and pads.

Now I'm on a septic system so the consequences of bad flushing is even more direct.
posted by Jalliah at 10:55 AM on August 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


The worst I've ever seen was a 12' slug of grease in an 8" pipe that came out in one continuous piece.

Ever get shit on by a snake? Once I was helping two colleagues medicate an abscess in the mouth of a reluctant six-foot blood python. One held the head and mouth open while I wrangled the latter half, and the lucky lady playing doctor got to stand right up front and dab medication along the snake's gum line while it did its even best to bite her in the face.

The snake was a tube of muscle as thick as my arm and strong as hell, writhing and wrapping its tail around my elbow and using our handholds for leverage as it tried to leap at its doctor and tormentor. Suddenly it lurched and a seven-inch long cork of semi-solid white urea launched out of its cloaca and bounced off my forearm onto the floor, followed by an increasingly runny jet of milky yellow liquid that reeked like cleaning fluid.

After managing the thing back into its enclosure we poked at the urea and marveled at the snake's efficient digestion.

Funny what comes to mind when one considers sewer fat.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 11:07 AM on August 6, 2013 [14 favorites]


I now know there's an emotion halfway between 'hysterical laughter' and 'uncontrollable womiting'. Multiply tenfold by being in the office right now.

Thanks, Metafilter.
posted by mikurski at 11:57 AM on August 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


uncontrollable womiting

Ensign Chekov, report to bridge immediately!
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 11:59 AM on August 6, 2013 [9 favorites]


Unfortunately proposal to create a genetically engineered species of lamprey to swim the sewers and devour the fat bergs was denied because the resulting creatures had a tendency to swim up the lou and occasionally latch on to hindquarters of corpulent citizens.
posted by humanfont at 12:00 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fatberg? Why not Zoidberg?
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:09 PM on August 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


“He's womitin', sorr. Womitin' bad.”
posted by Wolfdog at 12:16 PM on August 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


Anyone else use TP and a squirt from a foaming soap dispenser filled with 40:1 diluted Bronners?
posted by beukeboom at 12:17 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I guess not ...
posted by beukeboom at 12:59 PM on August 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Such was the density of the massive 'fatberg' it had reduced the 70x48cm sewer to just five per cent of its normal capacity.

This sewer is like, 3 ft by 2 ft?
posted by telstar at 1:21 PM on August 6, 2013


Not that I ever could before, but I'm pretty sure I'll never, ever be able to even consider maybe eating at Fatburger now.
posted by The World Famous at 1:27 PM on August 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


And here's a video of a guy cleaning up fatbergs in the sewers of London. You're welcome, I guess?
posted by The World Famous at 2:51 PM on August 6, 2013


Ah, MetaFilter! Is there any subject you can't digest?
posted by BlueHorse at 2:57 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I once broke a safety razor in half lengthwise and wrapped it in loads of toilet paper and flushed it down the toilet and I have literally felt bad about it ever since. I hope it didn't get anybody.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:06 PM on August 6, 2013


Ahh, this reminds me of the evening my friend and I invented what we thought (after very much red wine) was the completely inspired idea of disposable mittens made of wet-wipe, allowing ultra-squeamish people to wipe their bums without danger of contamination.

All that remained was to come up with a name for this extraordinary invention. And of course, it had to be:

Bummitts.

Can't believe we never marketed them.
posted by penguin pie at 3:12 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I bet the sewer pipe had that nice, empty feeling inside it for a good 20, 30 minutes afterward.
posted by not_on_display at 7:53 PM on August 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


As a person who suffers IBS, I pretty much have to use those wipes. I have a reasonable diet, considering what all I can't eat, but with IBS, you pretty much need those wipes. Public facilities do not have an easy way to get water onto paper. Also a lot of toilet paper falls apart if you use a little water on it, and even if body hair isn't a factor, it pills up. It's horrid.
As well, most of us who have IBS issues have smellier poop. It's part of the disease.
Since adding camel milk to my diet, it's better, but if I have something with a food that sets it off, (i cant always avoid foods that set it off. sometimes, labels or people dont tell me everything...) well, the consequences are not nice. A bucket full of pooped on anything isn't exactly sanitary either. Roaches anyone?
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:03 PM on August 6, 2013




Ahh, this reminds me of the evening my friend and I invented what we thought (after very much red wine) was the completely inspired idea of disposable mittens made of wet-wipe, allowing ultra-squeamish people to wipe their bums without danger of contamination.

All that remained was to come up with a name for this extraordinary invention. And of course, it had to be:

Bummitts.


And you completely overlook "Shittens"?
posted by sourwookie at 8:32 PM on August 6, 2013 [10 favorites]


@ sourwookie, the reviews don't look so good, but a bidet type thing is a good idea.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:33 PM on August 6, 2013


Were we seeing the same reviews? I would think 319 5-star and 84 4-star out of 427 really good.

But yeah, there are higher-end more integrated ones with more involved installations out there. I've had mine for over a year of flawless operation. I got an inexpensive one to see if I'd even like the idea. Now I can't even think of going back.
posted by sourwookie at 8:41 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I really liked it the one time I ever got to use one. I am fussy about my nether regions. Mr. Roquette is also very clean.
Then I could save those wipes for if I have to go someplace other than home.
In Bosnia, there is usually a clean plastic bottle full of water for clean-up. Not all bathrooms had toilet paper, but I personally never encountered one where warm water was unavailable. Here in the U.S. there might not always be hot water.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:18 PM on August 6, 2013


bonaldi - 'suckered by schmancy advertising into the idea that they need to cook their food in oil'

I don't think it's the oil that's causing fatbergs, I assume it is fat that is solid at room temperature. There is the option of cooking without oil, of course.
posted by asok at 1:56 AM on August 7, 2013


Answering the questions: I am thinking of the european bathroom fixtures. Like this.

Although the newer underseat ones give me similar heebie jeebies. Has anyone ever looked at the underside of a toilet seat? The only ones that don't seem horrifying to me are the ones that are sink-like with a handheld wand. At least that can be rinsed off prior to use.

(For the record, I'm not some kind of ass gasketing germophobe. I will give the seat a wipe if there is something visible or moist, but then I plop my delicious posterior right down. But the concept of other people's aerosolized excrement makes my skin crawl like practically nothing else.)
posted by gjc at 2:41 AM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's the oil that's causing fatbergs

It's pretty much all fats. Oils may be liquid at room temperature, but in the presence of detergents they can saponify (basically the soap making process).
posted by Ham Snadwich at 5:53 AM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


"My parents' generation didn't kill us with diseases spread by asses not kept as clean as NASA satellite assembly halls, and they didn't reek of shit at all times, so it's just weird that we've suddenly have a need to be so clean."

Well. My mother could never be called unkempt, but she grew up washing her hair once a week, and believes that doing so more often is actually bad for your hair (she has a lady come over and wash and set it once a week). We didn't have a shower in our house until I was twenty, so until the age of eighteen when I left home, I had to wash my hair first in the bath, then over the bath, with the use of a plastic cup, and for the first fifteen years of my life my hair hung to my waist. The difference between washing your hair in the shower and washing it over the bath is anagolous to using a machine versus hand-washing. It's hard work. I seriously wonder how the People of the Past went about without being able to shower daily or even twice-weekly, especially if they lived or worked in a big city. My parents grew up when toilets were outside and people used newspapers as paper. I quite like our brave new wet-wipey world.
posted by mippy at 7:53 AM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, I imagined people are using wet-wipes for their special time of the month? My old housemate used to flush her towels down the loo, something I realised only when I saw a used one floating in the bowl. It was only the 15th worst thing about living there, though.
posted by mippy at 7:56 AM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have, answered Gargantua, by a long and curious experience, found out a means to wipe my bum, the most lordly, the most excellent, and the most convenient that ever was seen. What is that? said Grangousier, how is it? I will tell you by-and-by, said Gargantua. Once I did wipe me with a gentle-woman's velvet mask, and found it to be good; for the softness of the silk was very voluptuous and pleasant to my fundament. Another time with one of their hoods, and in like manner that was comfortable. At another time with a lady's neckerchief, and after that I wiped me with some ear-pieces of hers made of crimson satin, but there was such a number of golden spangles in them (turdy round things, a pox take them) that they fetched away all the skin of my tail with a vengeance. Now I wish St. Antony's fire burn the bum-gut of the goldsmith that made them, and of her that wore them! This hurt I cured by wiping myself with a page's cap, garnished with a feather after the Switzers' fashion.

Afterwards, in dunging behind a bush, I found a March-cat, and with it I wiped my breech, but her claws were so sharp that they scratched and exulcerated all my perinee. Of this I recovered the next morning thereafter, by wiping myself with my mother's gloves, of a most excellent perfume and scent of the Arabian Benin. After that I wiped me with sage, with fennel, with anet, with marjoram, with roses, with gourd-leaves, with beets, with colewort, with leaves of the vine-tree, with mallows, wool-blade, which is a tail-scarlet, with lettuce, and with spinach leaves. All this did very great good to my leg. Then with mercury, with parsley, with nettles, with comfrey, but that gave me the bloody flux of Lombardy, which I healed by wiping me with my braguette. Then I wiped my tail in the sheets, in the coverlet, in the curtains, with a cushion, with arras hangings, with a green carpet, with a table-cloth, with a napkin, with a handkerchief, with a combing-cloth; in all which I found more pleasure than do the mangy dogs when you rub them. Yea, but, said Grangousier, which torchecul did you find to be the best? I was coming to it, said Gargantua, and by-and-by shall you hear the tu autem, and know the whole mystery and knot of the matter. I wiped myself with hay, with straw, with thatch-rushes, with flax, with wool, with paper, but,

Who his foul tail with paper wipes,
Shall at his ballocks leave some chips.

posted by glasseyes at 2:09 PM on August 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


sourwookie, I hereby appoint you Head of Marketing at Shittens Inc (formerly Bummitts).
posted by penguin pie at 2:51 PM on August 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Who his foul tail with paper wipes,
Shall at his ballocks leave some chips.


Sure, if you go back to front, but who does that?
posted by Ham Snadwich at 6:22 AM on August 9, 2013


turdy
bum-gut
dunging
perinee
torchecul

Translating Rabelais has got to be a pretty awesome job.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 8:00 PM on August 12, 2013


On the topic of wipes...

I never seemed to be able to clean myself satisfactorily using toilet paper alone, and began experimenting with wetting toilet paper, which as Ice Cream Socialist notes, merely creates another problem.

So it was a revelation to me when I began using wipes. For me, it's been a total game-changer.

As soon as I saw mention of wipes here, I knew that sonascope would weigh in. His valuable perspective definitely gives me pause for thought.

But I also agree with Rock Steady - manufacturers ought to be held responsible for their false claims, not consumers (although sonascope correctly notes that we ought to question all manufacturer claims).

sonascope: All the mess we get because people are scared of their own ass.

This is an odd way to summarize an otherwise informative bit of experience.

nowhere man: People have been pooping since the beginning of time -- do we really need to complicate this process now?

Just because people have been doing something in a particular way for a very long time doesn't make it the best way to go about things.

On a personal note, I used just toilet paper for about 35 years; using wipes subsequently revolutionized my toileting cleanliness.

Ham Snadwich: Retrofitting the sewers to accomodate something like this is a lot more expensive and difficult than you might think. In some cities (depending on topography) you could have literally thousands of grinders that would need to be upgraded.

All such work tends to be way more expensive and difficult than I can ever imagine. But so what? If it's worth doing, isn't it worth the cost?
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 1:13 AM on August 13, 2013


All such work tends to be way more expensive and difficult than I can ever imagine. But so what? If it's worth doing, isn't it worth the cost?

You're talking about literally billions of dollars to spare people the minor inconvenience of disposing of their wipes in the trash, rather than flushing them.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 5:48 AM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Like I said, I have no idea what it would cost. But from time to time I suppose the old infrastructure needs an overhaul. It seems to me that governments can generally find the money to do the things they want to do.

For my part, I'm going to contact my local government about the wipes I use (which claim to be "biodegradable, dispersible and flushable - sewer and septic safe") and the pipes they go through, and see if the situation in my part of the world is the same as that which sonascope described. I'm also going to contact the manufacturer and refer to the fatberg and to comments such as sonascope's, and ask them to confirm their claims for me in light of those evidences.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 4:19 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I hereby appoint you Head of Marketing at Shittens Inc (formerly Bummitts).

Ummm....
posted by jessamyn at 6:15 PM on August 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


*Shakes Shitten-clad fist at sky*

Noooooooooooooooo!
posted by penguin pie at 4:33 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


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