New Sentencing Regime Turns Spotlight On Wastewater Treatment

9 Jan 2015

Companies now face massively increased fines for breaching environmental legislation. Clwyd Jones, of Siltbuster Process Solutions, one of the UK’s leading providers of effluent treatment solutions for the food and drinks industry, explains how this is focusing minds on one area of vulnerability – wastewater treatment.

Whilst maximum fine the courts can impose has not changed (£3m), new guidelines mean that from the 1st July 2014, the size of the fine is dependent not only the nature of the offence but the size of the offending organisation. This means medium to large food or beverage producers are likely to see a significant increase in the magnitude of the fines.

The guidance particularly applies to breaches of environmental legislation relating to illegal discharges to controlled water and/or illegal disposal of waste. Potential fines vary from a minimum of between £100 and £700 for an unintentional minor incident by a micro company, through to between £450,000 and £3,000,000 for a deliberate act causing a major pollution incident by a large company. Whilst this represents the upper range, a typical pollution incident as a result of negligence by a large company could result in a fine of between £22,000 and £750,000 depending on its severity.

*So what does this mean for food and beverage companies?*

This means companies must take a closer look at how they manage the disposal of their effluent and be more aware of the factors which can affect it. That means:

* Make sure that sudden increases in production, which can be a factor with seasonal businesses, are strategically planned for, and that the effluent treatment process has enough headroom to cope. For instance a well known British producer of sugar was facing increased production between July and November – resulting in higher wastewater volumes and concentration. At the same time the site faced tighter seasonal discharge consent limits. In response the company used a temporary solution – a single stream, packaged lamella Dissolved Air Flotation (D100 DAF) with chemical pre-treatment taking place in a 30m3 3-Stage mixed reaction tank to provide enhanced discharge quality. The D100 was used to treat a proportion of the total flow to a high quality, which was then mixed with the remaining flow from conventional treatment to provide a combined flow which met site consent limits.

* Be aware that, changing the product produced (or the production method) may results in a completely different effluent. This is particularly true for sites with multiple product lines or seasonal ‘campaigns’. Unless planned for, the changed waste stream could very negatively affect the treatment process.

* Where practicable install key standby or additional treatment equipment at the effluent treatment plant. The cost of such systems is likely to be small compared to the cost of stopping production.

* A suitably sized mixed balance tank is an essential feature for most effluent treatment facilities, to homogenise the water quality thereby minimising the risk of shock loading the effluent plant and providing emergency storage for when things go wrong.

* Consider installing a “Divert Tank’’ or ‘’Calamity Tank” to temporarily store discharges related to incidents, or strong/difficult waste streams from where they can be bled back into the water treatment plant at a manageable rate or tankered off site.

* Whilst the steps above are focused on prevention, have a tried and tested process in place for quickly identifying and isolating the cause when things go wrong. Once you’ve eliminated the obvious (for example equipment failure due to a lack of planned maintenance), check for changes to effluent volume/characteristics or records of any incidents – plus other changes such as new shift patterns or a transient workforce, unreported spillages, changed production methods/cleaning agents can all affect the waste discharged.

* Put a contingency in plan in place, setting out what to do if the effluent plant fails, and where to mobilise emergency treatment from, be that temporary storage tanks, tankering off site to the nearest suitable waste acceptance site, or to hire of replacement effluent treatment technology.

* Regularly review the performance of the effluent treatment plant and update the contingency plan to reflect production changes

* Raise awareness of effluent treatment within the organisation by educating production personnel and managers on how the effluent plant works and its limitations thereby reducing the risk of production activities causing an incident.
*Beyond Guidelines*

There are also plenty of good commercial reasons why companies should review how they manage their effluent. For instance by addressing the high concentration of fat in the wastewater generated from its milk and cream processing operations, Ballyrashane Creamery not only made its effluent treatment process more efficient but it also found a way to reduce its energy bill. The fat, which is recovered using a DAF, is mixed with other sludges from the plant, before being pumped to complement other feed stocks at its own Anaerobic Digestion facility. With a high calorific value, the fat is ideal for the facility that generates more than 7 million kWh per annum of electricity which is all used on site.

With clever joined up thinking like this capable of delivering real bottom line benefits, plus new sentencing guidelines in place to focus minds, there has never been a better moment to review wastewater treatment practices. For more information on the guidelines, advice on effluent treatment for the food and drink industry, or for a strategic consultation with one of the company’s experts, contact Siltbuster Process Solutions on 01600 772256.