How innovative waste water treatment and removal can benefit your bottom line and the environment Waste management goalposts are on the move again, with many businesses playing ‘catch up’ in an effort to make sure their waste water is removed, recycled and replaced with minimum environmental damage and minimal cost.

Legislative compliance and pressure to increase profits are the main drivers behind changes in waste policy. Surprisingly, adhering to new laws can help companies achieve significant reductions in their waste disposal costs.

Climate change makes predictions for future legislative requirements even more difficult to second guess. Currently a patchwork of legislation exists, with the ‘unknown unknowns’ set to cause the greatest headaches for businesses, whatever their field. Ignorance of legislative requirements is no defence when it comes to environment, waste and pollution. UK businesses are generally ignorant of environmental legislation which applies to waste water. A recent survey conducted by The Environment Agency revealed only 5% are aware of integrated pollution prevention control (IPPC) legislation, only 18% could name a piece of environmental legislation unprompted and fewer than a quarter know they have a duty of care when it comes to the environment.

This lack of knowledge should cause concern for both the British and European Union governments, who expect businesses to exceed rather than just meet the standards set by law. Businesses must be aware the gestation period of legislation can be long, so they need to keep up to date with what is on the horizon and when it will impact.

Four key pieces of legislation impact on the way businesses deal with waste water and trade effluent:

  • Environmental Protection Act 1990 – introduced Integrated Pollution Control and Waste Management regulations
  • Water Resources Act 1991 – introduced discharge consents and the National Rivers Authority
  • Water Industry Act 1991 – brought about privatisation of water companies
  • Environment Act 1995 – set up Environment Agency and contaminated land proposals

In addition the Water Framework Directive requires companies to demonstrate ‘good ecological status’ by 2015. By complying with other environmental legislation this should be easy to achieve.

What is IPPC legislation all about?

IPPC legislation has much greater emphasis on prevention and sustainability, with the Environment Agency and local authorities both playing a role in the applications process. Many businesses will find themselves having to carefully examine the waste they produce and the methods used to dispose of it for the first time.

Applications are not as onerous as they may first appear although it can take up to a year for them to be prepared, submitted and approved. Receiving an IPPC permit does not give a company carte blanche to ignore other environmental legislation. Businesses are bound to meet the most stringent legislation applied to them, not the most lenient, so permits should not be regarded as ‘get out of jail free’ cards.

Water and sewage companies set trade effluent discharge levels to protect their sewage infrastructure. If their consent levels are more stringent than IPPC levels you must abide by the tighter control.

Where do the savings come from?

While many perceive IPPC to be an unnecessary business expense, savings can be made through improved resource efficiency – a direct consequence of IPPC. Water used on site is a resource like any other and its use or misuse can impact on legislative compliance as well as your bottom line.

Prevention is certainly better than cure when it comes to reducing the amount of waste water generated. If businesses can avoid creating waste in the first place they won’t have to dispose of it. This may mean making changes to some processes but in the long run savings will be made because less product is wasted and less effluent has to be dealt with.

Significant savings can be made by making changes to some of the operational activities on-site, to improve cleaning procedures and waste recovery. One way is to bag and bin waste, or wipe up spills rather than swill them away. Not washing down intrinsically dry areas will significantly reduce water consumption – and the amount of waste sent to sewer.

Food processors using high quantities of sugar create waste water with excessive levels of COD, which attracts a higher disposal charge than some other types of waste. Consequently many food producers pay large bills to have their waste removed and cleaned. In essence they are paying twice for their water – once to have it piped in as a resource and again to have it removed as waste.

Simple, low cost solutions to reduce consumption can quickly realise a return on investment, reducing water and effluent charges. Installing handguns onto hoses, automatic timers on washers, reducing the water pressure used when cleaning and diverting high strength waste away from the sewer to alternative disposal, such as land disposal or as animal feed, offer immediate ways to reduce water consumption and the amount of waste discharged.

Keeping food waste segregated into food type – meat, dairy, vegetables and raw and cooked foodstuffs will also help when it comes to disposal.

Whatever the industry, when liquid waste is reduced there is a corresponding reduction in the amount of water brought onto site, so businesses will make savings on their water bills. Reducing the amount brought onto site means there is less water to be heated or softened, so there will be further associated savings on energy and treatment costs.

In many cases waste production is inevitable. Where it has been reduced as far as possible there are still areas for efficiency.

Strength of trade effluent appears to have a greater impact on cost than volume; even greater savings can be made by increasing the concentration of waste and removing it at source, to prevent ingredients being sent to sewer unnecessarily.

Some successful case studies

An effluent monitoring programme at Reckitt Benckiser revealed significant amounts of product were left in the system between production runs. If flushed out between production cycles the effluent delivered a double blow to the company’s bottom line. Product was not only being wasted, but was also causing additional costs, adding to the volumes of effluent requiring treatment and removal. By implementing an effluent divert arrangement the company is now able to detect high strength effluent, segregating it into a separate tanker, meeting both quality and environmental objectives.

Fertilizer producer Syngenta previously disposed of acetic acid by-product by sending it to landfill sites in the area. Increased production at the plant meant a corresponding increase in waste production and the associated costs for its removal. In the light of ever increasing pressures from environmental legislation Syngenta did not believe they had a secure disposal route, and asked Severn Trent Water to find a more environmentally sustainable and economical way of dealing with the waste stream.

Severn Trent Water recommended the manufacturing by-product be removed by tanker directly to a sewage treatment works, where harmless bacteria are used to clean waste material, before it can be released back to rivers and streams.

Cost savings against a back-drop of increasing landfill disposal prices has significantly reduced Syngenta’s overall waste disposal bill and allows energy recovery from the waste effluent as part of the digestion process.

Businesses are finding that water used for cooling or final rinsing can possibly be reused for primary rinsing, although a full risk assessment must be carried out before implementing a recycling system.

Wherever producers are discharging to, whether to an on site treatment works or to sewer, it is worth remembering waste problems and expense arise from the strength of the effluent, the disposal of solids (gross or suspended) and the volume produced, so a reduction in any of these areas will reap dividends.

Choosing the correct type of treatment

Oils and greases present a particular disposal problem for food producers as they can block up pipework and increase the strength of the effluent. Simple off-the-shelf solid separators are available, which will help to screen out solid matter, while oil traps and interceptors can help separate fat from the waste.

More complex custom-made solutions exist, such as Dissolved Air Flotation, biological treatments or ultra filtration systems which allow full reuse of water.

Choosing the right type and level of treatment should be based on individual site assessments and should include risk analysis and legislative compliance, as well as cost analysis and payback. As increasing environmental awareness continues and producers face further pressure from legislation minimising waste and disposing of it with little or no impact on the environment will become essential.

Making more with the same quantity of raw materials is the challenge of resource efficiency, but there are more benefits than simply increasing production. Close examination of how much water is brought onto your site can reveal where savings can be made in associated waste disposal costs. Reducing waste costs can be as simple as reducing what is brought onto your site in the first place.

Performing a mass balance of what enters your site compared to what leaves will give you a good idea of where your waste lies.

In some cases by-product can be used as a sustainable method of waste treatment. Brewer Carlsberg UK is using carbon dioxide, a natural by-product of brewing, to neutralise the pH levels in its trade effluent. Naturally acidic carbon dioxide, produced at the Northamptonshire brewery, is being harnessed in a dosing system, to correct the pH levels of caustic wash water. In turn this ensures the company’s effluent flow remains within environmental consent limits and makes use of resource already available on site.

Waste water at the brewery has a high pH value and would damage the environment if released untreated. Excess carbon dioxide also has a negative impact on the atmosphere. Using carbon dioxide to treat the effluent solves both of these problems and helps Carlsberg meet its commitment to the environment.

Employing best available techniques and demonstrating continuous development has benefits for Carlsberg UK, as well as the environment. The carbon dioxide dissolution system is helping the company meet requirements set by IPPC legislation and ISO14001.

The solution presented by Severn Trent Water demonstrates environmental sustainability in the treatment of brewing waste, and removes the need for mineral acids to be stored on site for pH control.

Other costs associated with your water

The true cost of your water and waste includes associated costs, particularly for gas and electricity. Using best available techniques, as prescribed by IPPC, will help achieve cost reductions. Most businesses can realise a 3% reduction on their resource costs if they start to implement a resource efficiency programme. Savings typically follow a linear curve – the more you use the more you can expect to save. A company with a £5 million turnover with pre tax profits of 10% and a 30% spend on materials wants to increase profits by 10%. To achieve this sales figures would need to increase by £0.5m. Alternatively the same amount can be realised by a 1% saving on resource spend.

While the UK has the best knowledge of energy saving in the world, few companies fully exploit this expertise and consequently are paying for more water, gas and electricity than they need, dispelling more pollutants into the atmosphere as a result. Some £17 billion is spent on wasted energy each year by businesses whose lax approach to energy conservation cuts into their bottom line.

Monitoring water use is the most effective way to start a programme of water conservation, waste reduction and cost cutting. Until you know how much water is being used on site and in what areas you can’t begin to identify where savings can be made.

Typical savings from a monitoring and targeting programme are in the region of 10% and are just the start of potential savings.

Track your usage with Data Monitor

Gas cylinder manufacturer Luxfer uses Data Monitor from Severn Trent Water to effectively manage utility consumption levels at its site.

Designed to remotely collect consumption data from gas, water and electricity meters, Data Monitor provides a daily report of usage, in 15 minute increments, which can then be accessed and analysed from a PC.

Tom Jack installed Data Monitor on gas, water and electricity meters in 2002 and has discovered three clear benefits from the service. Since then he has been able to detect a failed trip switch which left a water spray on constantly, wasting water and using up electricity.

Unusually high water consumption figures helped detect an underground water leak. Prompt repair prevented unnecessary water being wasted and charged for, and protected the site against possible structural damage.

Luxfer is now able to manage utility usage more effectively. “Since installing Data Monitor” says Jack, “I can sit at my desk and instantaneously check the consumption levels of all three utilities during the day without juggling into three separate systems or physically going to read the meters. I can also compare electricity consumption with our production schedule to make sure we are using the correct number of electricity pumps for the work in progress, helping to minimise gas and electricity costs.”

Your utility bills present another no-cost way of potentially cutting costs. Instead of just reading them and paying them, check the figures used against your own consumption figures and only pay bills based on actual readings, not estimates. Make someone accountable for bill management to ensure you only pay for what you use and examine consumption more frequently than quarterly. By doing this, Data Monitor user Luxfer was able to demonstrate their bill was incorrect one month, something which might not have been picked up previously.

In conclusion

Staff awareness and senior management support are essential ingredients of a successful energy management programme. Once staff understand the implications it is easier to convince them of the benefits of energy saving.

Investing 1-2% of your energy bill to conservation techniques typically realises a 5-10% saving. Don’t ignore the no-cost quick win solutions such as turning off taps which aren’t being used, and involving staff in your energy conservation programme. Measure usage, compare figures and remember everything you waste you pay for.

Published: 01st Mar 2005 in AWE International