UK Drainage Habits Survey 2022: Are We Looking After Our Drains Properly?Thursday 20th October, 2022
In recent years, the UK has experienced growing problems caused by pollution in our rivers and seas, and a rising risk of damaging floods. We know that blocked sewers and drains make these problems even worse - but does the UK public have the knowledge and desire to help prevent them?
Unblocktober carried out a survey to assess public understanding of the link between better drain habits and environmental protection. We wanted to find out what people know about taking care of their drains, and what they are doing to help. Our survey also aimed to highlight the steps and measures the British public believes are necessary to tackle the impact of fatbergs and pollution in our waterways once and for all.
This year, a total of 1,758 UK adults took part in the survey and revealed some eye-opening insights into the bad habits and knowledge gaps that could be contributing to our current environmental crises.
The results of our 2022 survey have revealed a number of attention-grabbing statistics that suggest that public awareness of the dangers posed by drain blockages is rising - but that people still need to do more to change the habits that cause them.
- 82% of those polled say they have heard of fatbergs - up from 72% in the equivalent survey carried out in 2021
- 80% of people know that fat, oil and grease is a factor in the formation of fatbergs - up from 55% last year
- 97% of respondents say they are at least slightly worried about the environmental damage caused by putting the wrong items down the toilet and drain, including 76% who say they are worried or very worried
- However, 65% of this year’s respondents admitted to having poured fat and oil down the sink, rising substantially from 45% last year
- 11% say they do this after every cooked meal, while another 11% say they do so three times or more a day on average
- 61% say they feel they are already doing enough to combat environmental problems - but these people are more likely to be among the worst offenders in terms of pouring fat down the drain most frequently
- The majority of respondents believe that teaching children about what not to put down the drain is the most effective way of stopping these problems
Most people understand the danger of fatbergs…
According to the findings of the survey, general awareness and understanding of fatbergs and the dangers they can cause are quite encouraging:
- 82% of people say they have heard of fatbergs
- 53% have personally experienced a blocked drain in their household that required a plumber or professional to be called out
- When asked to identify the items that contribute to the formation of fatbergs, 80% of people were able to correctly identify fat, oil and grease as a factor. The next most commonly recognised causes were:
- wet wipes (49%)
- sanitary towels (41%)
- tampons (40%)
- cooking sauces (40%)
- By contrast, relatively few respondents knew that medication (19%), razor blades (21%), contact lenses (21%) and face masks (28%) can also be part of the problem - despite the rise in environmental damage caused by face masks since the pandemic
- Most people understand that fatbergs lead to blocked drains in the community (71%), in the home (70%) and in sewers (65%) - fewer knew they can contribute to plastic pollution (38%), damage to roads (35%) and damage to buildings (35%)
- When asked how well they understood what items should be put down the drain, 48% of those surveyed said they felt “very aware” of what should and shouldn't be flushed or washed down the sink or toilet - making this the most common answer
- When asked if they are worried about the environmental damage caused by putting the wrong items down the toilet and drain, 76% said they are worried or very worried, with a further 21% being slightly worried - only 3% claimed not to be worried about this
When asked to provide further details on what worries them about the environmental consequences of putting the wrong items down the drains, our respondents provided a range of responses, such as:
…but many are still putting FOG and hidden plastics down the drains
In spite of this awareness of the dangers of fatbergs, our survey also showed that many people are guilty of bad habits that cause them to develop:
- 65% admitted to ever having poured oil and fat down their kitchen sink
- Around one in 10 (11%) say they do this after every cooked meal, while another 11% say they do so three times or more a day on average! The most common response (44%) was from people who said they dispose of FOG in their drains less than once every three months, suggesting an occasional but persistent bad habit
- When presented with a list of common items that may contain hidden plastics, 40% said they have flushed wet wipes labelled “flushable” down the toilet - despite the fact that these items can often contain plastic content that makes them hard to break down
- A further 21% said they had flushed tampons, 20% had flushed kitchen roll and 17% had flushed a wet wipe that was not marked as flushable
- Only 20% said they had never flushed any of the listed items
- 73% said they knew all of the items listed in our survey could contain hidden plastics, and 81% were aware of the dangers of putting these down the drain - suggesting that people’s bad drainage habits are persisting despite knowing the risks
Are people getting complacent?
Even though awareness of fatbergs and the risk of environmental breakdown is higher than ever, our survey showed evidence that some people may be allowing complacency to affect their actions:
Of those polled, 61% feel they are already doing enough to combat environmental problems. However, among these people:
- 69% have poured fat, oil and grease down the drain
- 11% pour fat down the sink after every cooked meal, and 17% do so three times or more a day on average - meaning this group is more likely to be among the worst offenders in terms of clogging the drains
- Only 72% realised that fat, oil and grease from cooking contributes to fatbergs - lower than the 80% average for the entire survey group
- 62% have experienced a blocked drain that has led to a plumber or professional being called out, higher than the 53% average
Have things gotten better or worse since 2021?
Comparing the results of this year’s poll to the 2021 survey indicates that awareness of these issues has improved - but that behaviour has gotten worse in some ways:
- Only 72% had heard of fatbergs in 2021, compared to 82% this year
- Only 55% said they knew that fat, oil and grease contributed to fatbergs in 2021, compared to 80% this year
- However, in 2021 only 45% admitted to having poured fat and oil down the sink, rising substantially to 65% in 2022
- 55% of last year’s respondents said they were very aware of what should and shouldn't go down the toilet and sink, compared to only 48% this year
People are still committed to recycling and better drainage habits
Despite mixed responses to the survey, the results nevertheless indicated that people remain committed to adopting better drainage habits and a more green-friendly lifestyle. Just under one-third (28%) of those polled said they are actively trying to reduce what they put down the toilet and sink.
When asked what activities people had done to protect the environment in the last 12 months, the following answers were the most common:
- Recycling waste properly (71%)
- Not flushing anything other than poo, pee and paper down the toilet (49%)
- Not disposing of fat, oils and grease down the sink (49%)
- Conserving electricity by using less (47%)
- Buying less plastic by using a reusable shopping bag (47%)
- Conserving water by using less (43%)
- Choosing reusable products over single-use items (41%)
Many of these same activities were also the most common changes that people said they would be willing to commit to over the next 12 months:
- Recycling waste properly (54%)
- Not flushing anything other than poo, pee and paper down the toilet (45%)
- Not disposing of fat, oils and grease down the sink (45%)
- Conserving water by using less (43%)
- Buying less plastic by using a reusable shopping bag (43%)
- Conserving electricity by using less (43%)
- Choosing reusable products over single-use items (42%)
Better education is the best solution to solve these problems
There was also a consensus that the key to addressing the bad behaviours that lead to drainage problems is better education, which is precisely the aim of campaigns such as Unblocktober. 20% said they need more education about what should and shouldn't go down the toilet and sink.
When asked about the main barriers to changing the behaviour of people who contribute to fatbergs and pollution in our waterways, 36% cited laziness, while 27% said a lack of education and 13% pointed to an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude.
When asked to suggest the most effective way to change behaviour so that people stop adding to the problems caused by fatbergs and waterway contamination, the following answers were most common:
- Teaching children in primary school about what not to put down the drain (62%)
- Teaching children in secondary schools about what not to put down the drain (57%)
- A device in your sink or toilet to prevent products from going down the drain (40%)
- TV shows discussing the topic to raise awareness (38%)
Take action and do your part to help!
If you want to reverse these negative environmental trends and take a step towards saving our sewers and seas, the time for action is now. Sign up to our national campaign Unblocktober, and complete our month-long challenge to improve your everyday habits to prevent damage to the UK’s drains and waterways.
To read about our results in further detail, you can download our full survey findings here. If you wish to utilise any part of this data for editorial purposes, please credit Lanes Group at www.lanesfordrains.co.uk, and the Unblocktober campaign at www.unblocktober.org.