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Waste planning with the environment in mind

13 May 2017

Clwyd Jones says that now is a good time for the food industry to initiate waste water contingency plans to mitigate against compliance failure, following recent stringent penalties for offenders. 

A recent judgement against Thames Water, along with a £20.3m fine, should act as a warning to all companies that it is no longer cheaper to offend than to adopt best environmental practice and take appropriate precautions. For food companies it should highlight the need to review existing wastewater treatment operations, identify scenarios which could threaten compliance and mitigate against them.
According to recent research undertaken by Siltbuster Process Solutions this would not simply be an intellectual exercise but can provide real value. A total of 30% of food companies included in the study have had a significant wastewater treatment problem in the past year. Furthermore, 8% overall and 20% of single site operators, stated that when the problem occurred, they continued to discharge, even when it threatened their compliance.  This demonstrates that contingency planning is clearly needed by many! 

Identifying weak spots
A key stage in contingency planning is to identify the weak spots in a production process. The introduction of a new product line or a sharp increase in production can lead to vulnerability – typical scenarios for seasonal businesses.  Such changes affect effluent characteristics and can put compliance at risk. Though these are typically planned events, the planning often does not include considering the impact on effluent and its consequences.  With proper planning, contingency measures can be implemented.  These could include using additional, temporary treatment equipment to boost capacity when needed - something Siltbuster is often called on to supply, either as part of a planned contingency measure, or as a rapid response.    
There are many other unplanned events which can have a similar impact - spillages, out of specification product dumps and new hygiene regimes, for example. All will have an impact on effluent characteristics and as such should be part of a contingency plan.  

It’s not just what comes down the pipe that can cause problems.  If a company has an on-site treatment facility to manage, problems can arise there too.  So, it is worth taking a critical look at all aspects of the treatment facility’s management. Identifying those which have potential to cause harm (or a breach of compliance), considering the potential severity of the harm and its likelihood – and then agreeing measures.  

Here are just some of the many aspects which should be considered.

• Operators – your operator knows the plant inside out and is 100% reliable.  But what happens when he is ill? Continuity of attention and ownership can make a vital difference. So, it is important to have people in reserve and to invest time keeping them familiar with the plant and competent.

• Critical spares – the lead times that might apply for replacement of critical items could be a problem and they need to be prioritised accordingly.  Make sure that spares inventories, if kept, are maintained and that items are re-ordered when used.  
• Sludge disposal – most treatment plants generate a by-product; how secure is the disposal route?  What happens if it becomes unavailable, either temporarily or long term – what alternatives have you got and what is the cost impact?  
• Chemical supply – what are the re-order levels and which are the most critical ones? How often have you come close to running out and what would happen if you did?  
• Loss of power and/or control – this not just confined to standby power generation. What if you had a catastrophic panel failure? How would the plant operate?  Who is familiar with your PLC program - where are the backups? Could temporary starters be rigged up if needed? Who can support you with this? Can part of your effluent volume be tankered away if needs be – to where? Who could do it – how much would it cost?

• Pumping capacity – this could be lost due to loss of power or through mechanical failure.  What happens if you lose that inlet pumping station or the recirculation feed to that critical high rate filter? How could you rig up a temporary diesel pump set? Where would flexible hoses be connected, what size pumps would be needed?  Get your pump hire company involved so you’ll know what to ask for should a problem arise.

Such assessments may feel hypothetical, but remember that the risk is very real, and, as the Thames Water scenario demonstrates, the potential fines can be high so this is an exercise that should be taken very seriously.  

Clwyd Jones is business development manager at Siltbuster Process Solutions.   

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