When technicians working with Anglian Water reported to the site of a recent sewer blockage in the town of Ipswich, in Suffolk, England, they knew that something had stoppered the flow of water and caused it to pool in the street. They just didn’t know what.
Regardless, they probably girded themselves for something weird: In the past, they had hauled all sorts of culprits from the pipes. The vast majority of these have been wet wipes, which have a nasty habit of nourishing fatbergs, those gloopy subterranean behemoths that cause trouble in cities around the world. Wet wipes contribute to 80 percent of the 40,000 blockages that Anglian Water has to combat each year, according to Nicola Harvey, a spokesperson for the utility company. So, it’s likely that the technicians dispatched to unclog the pipes were recalling things they’d fished out in the past—cutlery, cell phones, children’s toys, fake teeth. This time, though, the offender was one they hadn’t seen before: a bunch of Yorkshire puddings.
The savory baked goods belong on the table, and then in bellies—not heaped down the drain in all their fluffy, golden-brown glory. Yet there they were. Because the puddings are so common in England—and since they had held up pretty well—“they would have been easily recognizable,” Harvey says. They still looked quite a bit like puddings, just soggy and much less appetizing.
Harvey’s not quite sure exactly how many puddings were down there, but confirms that it was “quite a lot”—enough to lead the utility to suspect that they had been dumped by a restaurant, as opposed to an individual family that had forsaken their leftovers. After the technicians removed them by hand (their standard practice for unblocking these types of clogs, Harvey says), they tossed the puddings away.
There’s still plenty of debate about what is truly safe to flush down the drain, and which wipes, if any, belong there. New York City’s new anti-fatberg campaign asks residents to flush only the “four P’s”—poop, pee, puke, and toilet paper—while other cities entertain a slightly broader view. In January 2019, in an effort to fight fatbergs, Anglian Water teamed up with other providers and the group Water U.K. on the “Fine to Flush” campaign, which awards seals of approval to any wipes that pass a test in a simulated toilet and sewer environment. To be deemed flushable, wipes will need to travel through pipes without staying lodged, be able to break apart if they snag, and disintegrate enough that all of the soggy mass can pass through a sieve with 0.98-inch (or 25 millimeter) openings, among other requirements.
Suffice to say, Yorkshire puddings aren’t getting that seal. “We’re sure even our friends at @YorkshireWater wouldn’t welcome this sight!” Anglian Water quipped on Twitter.
Bake the puddings, eat the puddings, love the puddings—but please don’t flush them.
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