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Recycling Systems in Laundries

Wastewater treatment is not new, but for the laundry industry it is an emerging concept. It is being more thoughtfully considered in the laundry industry today as a result of increased sewage charges, increasing fuel cost for heating water, the need to produce a quality product while maintaining cost and the desire to be a more environmentally friendly consumer of our limited resources.

Our fresh water supply is static. Population growth, industry and agriculture are not only placing rising demands on this limited resource, there is little regard for maintaining its integrity as we rapidly spew toxins and pollutants into our waste streams.  Municipalities across the country are struggling to repair and renovate their crumbling water infrastructures. Rapid development in many cities has taxed the water treatment facilities, leaving many with no choice but to send untreated wastewater into our fresh water supply. Large volume water users face fines, impact fees and requirements to purchase additional sewer capacity.

As municipalities continue the struggle to provide adequate sewer capacity to accommodate the rising demands of growth, incentives are provided in some areas for large volume water users to conserve water and reduce discharge. Reducing your wastewater discharge will provide much needed relief to the community wastewater treatment plant. Reducing sewage discharge—and its pollutants—may provide an opportunity to avoid the requirements of some communities to purchase additional sewer capacity or payment of fees as a result of planning for growth of your operation.

Wisconsin is no exception as residential and commercial growth depletes the fresh water supply of Lake Michigan. In their efforts to promote conservation and encourage recycling projects in the state, The State’s Department of Commerce passed legislation that requires close scrutiny, evaluation and approval of any technologies that recycle or reuse water.

One Wisconsin laundry, Wisconsin Hospitality Linen Service (WHLS), has stepped up to the plate. This commercial laundry processes almost 8 million pounds of linen annually for Milwaukee area hotels and other hospitality venues. Owned by Marcus Hotels & Resorts a division of The Marcus Corporation, this Milwaukee based, publicly traded company owns and manages twelve hotels and resorts in the Wisconsin area. Craig Rambo, director of engineering for Marcus Hotels and Resorts since 1993, recognized the environmental and financial benefits of water conservation and began extensive research into water recycling systems.

How does recycling work in a laundry?
The basic concept is to process the “grey” water from the washer through a filtration system and recycle back into the wash process instead of routing waste water out of the facility and on to the public sewage treatment facility. There are three processes to review when making your choice of a water recycling system. They are (1) multiple series of filters, (2) a ceramic filter membrane, or (3) a vibrating membrane filtration system. Mr. Rambo emphasized the necessity for researching the recycling companies and their methods of recycling and identified four caveats for laundry directors:

  1. Know the local, state, and federal regulatory requirements for installation and operation for water recycling.
  2. Clearly define and understand “savings”. Make certain that all parties involved measure utilization in the same way – that you all speak the “same language”
  3. Have a good “partnership” established between the laundry, your chemical company/representative, and the recycling company. A good working relationship is critical.
  4. Never make significant change without a contingency plan

Regulatory Requirements
Since the use of recycling systems in institutional laundries is still in its infancy the regulatory requirements have not kept up with progress. “Be sure to ask questions at all levels of government -- city, state and federal,” Rambo said. In his case, it was initially understood that no additional steps would be required -- but further research revealed that WHLS would have to undergo further testing, even requiring that water be tested against potable water standards.

Clearly define and understand “savings”
Rambo recommends installing additional measurement tools to compare what you are actually using and/or saving. This would be applied in all areas, gas, electricity, water, etc. Every laundry has its own standards for quality, and while quality may be a matter of opinion, achieving savings while maintaining your level of quality is essential to your operation. Realize that every laundry will vary and a savings of 75% over previous operational costs while maintaining your standards is a significant achievement while it may not be the higher savings achieved with an acceptable product outcome.

Develop sound partnerships
Any laundry director will tell you that the relationship and communication with their chemical representative is key to quality cost efficient operations. Wash water conditions must be monitored closely during any change. If the PH of the recycled water in the holding tank is too high adding new water may correct the level. The three entities must work together to achieve the same goals. “Fortunately for us, all egos were in check and everyone was in agreement on the desired outcomes,” Rambo said. “We have a wonderful working relationship with the recycling company and our chemical distributor.”

Have a contingency plan
Adjustments are always necessary. You can’t just install a new system and walk away, says Rambo. “This is the case with any alteration in the wash process,” he adds. “A contingency plan is a must, especially when regulatory processes can take a long time and you want to continue to provide quality services throughout the transition.”

“We’ve seen substantial savings and we are very satisfied with where we are today,” he said. “Prior to installing our recycling system, we used 1.3 gal of water per pound of laundry and today we are seeing utilization figures of ½ gal of water per pound of laundry. With 8 millions pounds processed last year this is a real positive.”
As water demands and environmental needs grow, water recycling will play a greater role in our overall water supply. By working together to overcome obstacles, water recycling, along with water conservation can help us to conserve and sustainably manage our vital water resources.

This article has been adapted from an article by Linda Freeman, NLM Director of Academic Affairs originally published in the NLM Journal Vol. 2, #6, November/December 2004.

Quick Rinse - News From Around The World

Commercial Laundry Cited by OSHA

ELM GROVE, W. Va. — Uwanta Linen Supply, a commercial laundry, was recently cited for 21 health and safety violations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The laundry faces $62,400 in penalties for the violations. Eighteen of the the 21 violations are considered serious by OSHA. The serious violations include failing to properly guard floor holes and failing to provide hepatitis B vaccines to workers who are potentially exposed to blood borne pathogens.