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Wastewater Systems and Laundry Operations (Conclusion)

A look into the future of wastewater systems

CHICAGO — The past 10 years have seen an extensive expansion of water reuse treatment systems.

Water reuse systems have been applied to centralized and decentralized scales, and water has been reused for a wide range of activities, such as agricultural/land application, commercial/industrial processes, toilets, and even potable water. 

To keep costs down, industry is shifting focus toward reuse systems that are fully automated, have minimal operator requirements, require few chemicals and use semi-permanent filters.

And as wastewater treatment systems improve, laundry and linen services are making use of them to drive down costs and be more environmentally responsible.

Part 1 examined changes and improvements in systems, and Part 2 looked at how wastewater systems improve laundry operations. Part 3 covered how laundries can add or upgrade systems. This final installment of the series looks ahead to the future.

FUTURE OF WASTEWATER SYSTEMS

Bob Fesmire, president of Ellis Corp. in Itasca, Illinois, a manufacturer of washing technology with a wastewater division, says wastewater systems will continue to offer features that allow for more hands-free interaction. Automation, remote monitoring, clear graphics and on-screen training videos already, and will continue to, take the place of simple controllers and paper support literature. 

“We also see emerging pollutants, such as PFAS and microfibers, complicating treatment systems as local municipalities push for end users to eliminate these from their waste streams,” he shares. “The allowable limits are so low and solutions so complicated, many facilities will be required to add on additional treatment steps in order to comply.” 

Fesmire also says it is becoming more common for end users in certain geographies to want to achieve zero liquid discharge (ZLD). 

“The end result is very desirable, but achieving this can be very complicated,” he points out. “Essentially, this would eliminate the need to run laundry wastewater back to the municipality for treatment. If they could eliminate the discharge stream, there is also the possibility of digging a well for feed water to remove themselves from municipal dependence all together.”

Operators in the current and future regulatory climate will need to be nimble and look to partner with educated vendors that have a deep bench and experience with all manners of physical separation, chemical separation and energy recovery, says Fesmire.

As he mentioned in a previous installment, Jason Sosebee, owner of Industrial Waste Water Services in Cleveland, Georgia, sees even more automation in wastewater systems, along with a reduction in the physical size of the equipment.

“Water reuse will also grow in importance as companies pay higher rates for their incoming water,” he says.

Keith Ware, vice president of sales for equipment manufacturer Lavatec Laundry Technology in Beacon Falls, Connecticut, also sees automation of wastewater systems improving in the future.

“As many areas of the country and world continue to experience water shortages, these systems may become mandatory and force laundries to reduce water consumption,” he says. “Hopefully newer technologies will become more efficient, improving the overall quality of the wash water and wastewater.”

Chad Folkerts, vice president of field operations and engineering at Norchem Corp., a chemical solutions/water technologies company based out of Los Angeles, says equipment size will continue to be reduced, as real-estate inside any laundry is a premium. 

“Reducing the footprint, allows systems to be installed in just about any laundry application,” he shares. 

Folkerts goes on to say that as the water and sewer infrastructures in many municipalities across the United States age and become outdated, they are required to replace or upgrade current systems and will need to pass that cost on to their customers. 

“We see the water and sewer cost to continue to rise at a significant rate over the next five to 10 years,” he predicts. “Because of this, within 10 years most laundries will be forced to reuse or recycle water to be competitive.”

Folkerts also sees an ongoing evolution of automation to help reduce the interaction required from operators.

“With the changing work force, and struggle to retain qualified personnel, it will be critical for systems to be easy to operate, minimize operator interaction, and offer tools for operators to easily maintain the equipment,” he says.

Folkerts says Norchem has been working toward Zero Liquid Discharge for about three years. 

“We currently have systems that recycle 100,000 gallons per day and discharge less than 1,000 gallons to sewer,” he shares. “There are technologies out there now to achieve this goal but not economically.”

Folkerts also sees the need to continue to improve system designs to address contaminates such as PFOS, TDS, and polyester microfiber the EPA has recently identified a need to be reduced or eliminated from the waste stream to the POTW. 

“As more harmful pollutants evolve and require treatment, we will develop technologies and processes to treat these contaminates to ensure compliance,” he says.

The cost and regulatory environments are becoming much more challenging as time goes on, points out Eisa Sawyer, marketing director for Kemco Systems, a water and energy technology company in Clearwater, Florida. As the cost of water continues to increase, the financial decision to invest in water recycling equipment becomes more obvious.

“One of the greatest challenges that we have seen is in the requirement for capital outlay,” she shares. “In response to the market’s demand, Kemco has developed its CONSERVE program, which allows customers to invest in water recycling without the high upfront capital cost.

“The program is designed to be an all-inclusive monthly offering that covers equipment, installation, parts and service at a price point that is lower than their current water costs. This allows customers to pay for the infrastructure without an impact to their income statement or balance sheet.”

Sawyer goes on to say that the regulatory environments are becoming a bit more challenging as well. She echoes Fesmire, saying that with the emergence of new pollutants such as PFAS and microplastics, many plants will be compelled to improve their treatment approach.

“Traditional dissolved air flotation technologies, media filters or direct discharge will not address these contaminants, which will prove problematic for some plants,” she says. “Reverse osmosis is the only recognized ‘best available technology’ for removing PFAS and microplastics that are commonly found in laundries.

“While many plants are flocking to this technology for the benefits of compliance, there is the added benefit of being able to use this water within the plant for hygienically clean recycling of water that is free of viruses, bacteria, hardness, PFAS and microplastics.

“It is through this lens that we see the future as quite bright. When the worlds of forced compliance and clear economic benefit collide, the results are good for the plant, its customer, its neighbors and the industry as a whole.”

To read Part 1 on changes and improvements in systems, click HERE. For Part 2 on how wastewater systems improve laundry operations, click HERE. Part 3, how laundries can add or upgrade systems, can be accessed HERE.