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Rising Concerns: Laundry Operations and Water Issues (Part 1)

Challenges include cost, availability, quality, discharge requirements

CHICAGO — Water is one of the most important substances on the planet.

People and animals need water to survive. Plants and ecosystems need water to grow and produce food and other essential elements.

And laundry operations need water to process soiled goods for their customers.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states: “Water is essential for life and the vitality of our economy and communities. It is EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment, and there are a number of challenges we are facing when it comes to water. 

“Across the country, our water and wastewater infrastructure is in need of replacement and repairs to deliver clean, safe water to residents. 

“Infrastructure upgrades must be addressed even in the midst of other challenges such as legacy toxins, emerging threats from pathogens and contaminants, population changes, climate change, including natural disasters and aging infrastructure.”

The challenges mentioned by the EPA reach deep into industrial laundry operations. Year after year, plants have to deal with drought, pollution and other factors to have the water necessary to process goods and to help ensure the availability of clean water once the job is done.

And every year, water pressures seem to grow.

“Every laundry operator is faced with different regulations and compliance factors,” says Richard Marzo, vice president of marketing and sales for Lace House Linen Supply in Petaluma, California. 

“As an operator in California, we typically see new environmental laws first and then they trickle out to the rest of the U.S. Needless to say, being compliant in California can be a steep learning curve and also very costly. 

“The statewide drought and environmental concerns over micro-plastics and PFAS/PFOA (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) are issues that are here to stay and preparing for the most intense (regulatory) outcome is key. Plants that have an existing wastewater treatment process are in a better position to add the right technology to meet new requirements. 

“Eventually, these new regulations will make their way to every state and operators should anticipate investing in wastewater treatment equipment.”


Bob Corfield is president and CEO of Laundry Design Group, a commercial laundry consultant with main offices in Las Vegas, which is one of the most water-conscious and water-efficient metropolitan areas in North America. 

“The water levels of Lake Mead and Lake Powell are reported on weekly as if they were sports results for the NFL, MLB or NHL,” he says. “A major shift in water policy was enacted this past year which basically changes a very old costing model: larger users pay less than smaller users based on volume. This was true for residential and commercial users. 

“As of 2023, a residential user with a 1-inch water line will pay the same rate as a residential user with a ¾-inch line. The rate increase impact amounts to 300%-400% cost for the 1-inch meter user. 

“The driver here is to get large water consumers to curb use in what has been a drought concern and is now the new normal for water availability.”

The impact on commercial and industrial users is considerable not only in the drought-impacted Western United States, but nearly everywhere Corfield’s company has performed laundry site investigations. 

“The concerns are not only water cost but water availability and finally water quality and sewer discharge requirements,” he points out. 

“I presented on water/sewer cost trends 10 years ago and noted from 2000-2010 certain cities’ water/sewer rates were 150%-248% higher. The higher rates were mostly tied to failing infrastructure or growth or both.”

Corfield says that every project Laundry Design Group is evaluating or specifying looks at core utilities, and every project looks at water recycling technology. 

“Industry segments (healthcare and hospitality) that never really looked at water recycling in the past are focused on finding room to address resource or mandatory compliance in waste discharge limits,” he says. 

“Our industry continues to develop new technologies to help address water challenges,” shares Marzo. “Gallons per pound washed is a key metric to demonstrating your company’s commitment to conservation and sustainability. 

“Manufacturers and chemical providers understand that water reuse and reducing energy consumption are integral to the future of our industry.”  

Corfield says that water recycling technology is a maturing industry with technologies that work to reduce consumption while removing contaminate to sewer. 

“Water reductions in the 60% to 80% range are very realistic, but we caution that this is not a toaster and does not just plug in and do the job,” he points out. “Water is the main chemical used in laundry, and once you add a recycle system, your world will change drastically. You will be restricted by what you can run and how you can run production based on your system design and regulatory limits. 

“It is also inevitable that you will need to address water/sewer cost and compliance issues. The rate of how, what and when a laundry may need to comply is directly related to where they are located as these are mostly regional.”

Corfield says that the quality of water is changing in different areas based on drought and groundwater contamination. 

“Laundries are having problems based on high iron, high calcium, high chloride, which are new to them,” he shares. “Meaning the water source or quality has changed. Titrating fresh water before the process is now a best practice in affected markets.”

The most notable challenge is the attention to PFAS, which have been integrated into many textile products which laundries are a concentration for, shares Corfield. 

“Vector testing for specific textile sources is ongoing, but the early indicators are barrier or protection fabrics are a major source (barrier gowns, incontinence pads, fire-resistant uniforms, etc.),” he shares.

“Also noted are single-use disposable items are major sources of PFAS, most notable of those is toilet paper. All environmental reporting on this is considerable and global. 

“The current technology available for removing PFAS at the laundry is HP membrane and RO (reverse osmosis), but these systems do not fit most modern laundry plants based on how our industry uses water, so the current industry focus is on eliminating PFAS at the source.”

Check back Thursday for the conclusion about dealing with water regulations. 


Continuing Laundry Operation Water Usage Improvement, Nov. 3, 2022

Rising Concerns: Laundry Operations and Water Issues

(Photo: © eric1513/Depositphotos)

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].