It’s estimated that U.S. commercial laundry operations consume more than 150 billion gallons of fresh water annually in processing at least 60 billion pounds of soiled linens from hospitals, hotels, correctional facilities, universities and industrial sites.
So, it just makes good business sense for laundries to consider installing systems to recycle or reuse water, but some operators in drought-ridden parts of the country are turning to this technology out of necessity.
Mandatory water restrictions are in effect throughout the Southeast, for example, and Charlotte, N.C., is demanding a 50% reduction within 60 days, according to Angie Kalayjian, president of Norchem Corp.
“That’s suicide for a laundry,” exclaims Kalayjian, whose company offers a proprietary ceramic filtration system for chemical-free wastewater treatment, heat and water recovery, and is receiving inquiries from as far away as Australia.
Four companies that offer water reuse or recycle systems – AquaRecycle, Ecolab, Kemco Systems and Norchem – accepted American Laundry News’ invitation to answer some questions that the average operator may have:
Is there a difference between water reuse and water recycling, or are they just different terms for the same concept?
Operators tend to use the terms interchangeably even though the two processes are different, says John Schultz, director of Integrated Laundry Solutions for Ecolab’s Textile Care Division.
"Reuse" refers to water that has been collected from an operation in a wash formula and/or reused in another operation or formula step, Schultz says. There really is no treatment of water here, with the possible exception of lint removal.
Water recycling involves the collection of all waters discharged from the wash floor. These waters are treated through a variety of treatment technologies, he says, and are used on limited operations in a formula.
Industrial laundry operators are more likely to install recycling systems, he says, while those working with linens want reuse systems.
The disadvantage of reuse, according to Kevin Minissian, Norchem vice president, is its impact on sewer discharge cost. Reusing rinse water will reduce the dilution of heavy-soil wash water and increase the risk of environmental noncompliance in sewers, he says.
How do I know my laundry operation is a good
candidate for water reuse or recycling?
A laundry is a candidate for reuse “if you’re trying to reduce the amount of water being purchased, and if you have the kind of equipment and production in the wash room that allow you to identify sources of fairly clean water that would be usable on other operations and other soils,” says Gerry Van Gils, vice president of Kemco’s Wastewater Division. “You’re a candidate for recycling if you have water and sewer costs high enough to justify the initial capital expenditure, and if your financial goals and strategies include reducing the cost of water and sewer over time.”
“If the water and sewer cost exceeds $3 per 1,000 gallons, it is a candidate for water recycling,” says Norchem’s Minissian.
“Just about any laundry is a good candidate for water reuse,” says Gene Dedick, vice president of sales for AquaRecycle, which has laundry water recycle system installations sprinkled from coast to coast.
“It’s very economical. The only drawback is you don’t gain much, maybe only 15-25% of the water, and it’s cold. With recycling, not only do you get back the water but also energy and the reduction in costs from organic concentrations in the waste stream.”
When weighing reuse and recycling, it’s important to consider the potential environmental impact along with the cost savings, he adds.
“Every therm that we save is going to save us .0062 metric tons of greenhouse gas,” says Dedick, who holds master’s degrees in physical chemistry and business administration. “The typical laundry is going to save 50 to 100 metric tons of greenhouse gases each year.”
How would installing a water reuse (or recycling) systemimpact my processing methods, cycles, etc.?
Waters collected for reuse are typically rinse waters and will contain little residual chemistry, says Ecolab’s Schultz. If operators need to heat water for a particular operation, it will usually occur in the wash wheel, requiring steam.
Reuse water could be added to a tempered-water tank, but the operator must make sure there are no residual dyes or other constituents that could cause quality issues.
For recycled water, there are more concerns, Schultz says. There are residual chemicals in this water, with one of the major constituents being total dissolved solids (TDS). TDS will gray and dull textiles, especially whites or white labels on colored goods. Only reverse osmosis (RO) will remove TDS, according to Schultz, which is costly. He says he knows of only two U.S. laundry facilities with RO systems.
Dedick says if a system is designed properly, there should be no impact mechanically. Chemically, it may be necessary to adjust wash chemistry to account for residual alkalinity that may be present in the recycled water.
Can a system be installed without requiring
an extended period of downtime?
No production downtime is typically necessary, with installation work being done during the laundry’s off-hours or on weekends, says AquaRecycle’s Dedick.
“It’s easy to take offline if something goes south,” he says. “We design the system to operate around the overall system.”
“Tie-ins are done such that the plant has the ability to go back to the way things were,” Kemco’s Van Gils says of his company’s systems. “We’ve never shut down a laundry. We’d never want to do that.”
What can I expect my return on investment (ROI)
to be on a system purchase? How long will it take
for such a system to pay for itself?
“The more costly the system, and (if) the plant has low water and sewer rates, the ROI period can be long,” says Ecolab’s Schultz. “I have seen installed systems have a 12-month ROI and I have seen others in excess of seven years. A good payback is within 12 to 24 months.”
Schultz recommends using water meters to document savings. He suggests metering water that travels through the water recycle system and the fresh-water makeup line to accurately measure the amount that is being reused or recycled.
Are there grants available to partially fund
a resource conservation project like this?
“Depending on location, there are grants or incentives available for water recycling,” says Norchem’s Minissian. “For example, the City of Los Angeles and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California offer a combined $6 per 1,000 gallons of recycled water.”
Dedick says public and private entities may offer low-interest loans for such projects.
All of the spokesmen suggested that operators contact their local publicly owned treatment works (POTW) and utility companies to inquire about available funding.
Kalayjian believes that no matter their location or the ampleness of their water supply, all operators should embrace conservation.
“Human nature is such that unless you’re pounded on and forced to do it, you won’t. Every operator should take responsibility, not because they have to, but because it’s best for their business.”