Monthly Archives: January 2014

From Drain to Drink: Wastewater Reuse

drinking

California is leading the way in a trend that’s picking up around the world: municipal wastewater being treated, disinfected and reused near its source for a variety of purposes, from wetlands restoration to irrigation — and, yes, drinking.

Water recycling, also known as reuse or reclamation, is not new; non-potable (not for drinking) water recycling systems have been in place for decades. In arid states, including Texas and Nevada, and rainy states, such as Florida and Virginia, municipal wastewater is collected and treated to an extent that doesn’t meet drinking water standards, but is approved for certain uses that don’t involve human contact, such as agriculture, landscaping and golf course irrigation.

Today, due mainly to increasing drought conditions and groundwater depletion, non-potable uses are expanding. Municipalities are figuring out more ways to treat sewage less like waste and more like a resource. In addition to watering golf greens, recycled water is being used for street cleaning, fire-fighting, geothermal energy production, preventing seawater intrusion into freshwater aquifers, industrial processing, commercial laundering, restoring natural wetlands, and creating constructed wetlands.

Recycled water flows along the San Antonio River Walk, which touts itself as Texas’ No. 1 tourist attraction. “Everything that goes down the drain here is treated and reused,” said Greg Flores, vice president of public affairs for the San Antonio Water System, citing university campuses, the San Antonio River Walk and Toyota and Microsoft facilities as examples. The San Antonio Marriott Rivercenter is also a big contributor as it converts its food waste into water, with the Eco-Safe Digester adding approximately 12,000 gallons of net new water to San Antonio’s Water System for reuse each year.

A growing number of municipalities are now shifting toward or considering “potable reuse” — recycling wastewater into drinking water.

In 2008, Orange County, California started operating its now-celebrated Groundwater Replenishment System, which injects treated wastewater into the water supply of nearly 600,000 residents. The project, said Orange County Water District president Shawn Dewane, is “taking water reuse to the next level. Instead of pouring it on the ground, in terms of landscape irrigation, [we are] turning it into drinking water.”

With a capacity of 70 million gallons per day, the Orange County system is the world’s largest for water purification and potable reuse. Primarily because of its scale the system has attracted interest both nationally and internationally. Experts say reuse technologies have been proven, and treatment plants can get wastewater as clean as distilled water. The three-step process used in Orange County — microfiltration, reverse osmosis and a combination of ultraviolet treatment with hydrogen peroxide — is becoming the standard for potable reuse.

Water reuse is regulated at the state level — although the EPA has issued guidelines for reuse approximately every decade since 1980 — and more than half the states have some kind of regulation in place. Aside from serving as a way for cities to supplement their increasingly stressed water sources, reuse can provide a variety of benefits.

  • In the Pacific Northwest, reuse is growing because of decade-old temperature restrictions imposed by state agencies on wastewater treatment plant discharges to rivers. Effluent is warmer than rivers, so what folks are doing is they’re looking to treat the effluent to a standard that allows it to be used on the land.
  • Water reuse can reduce the amount of freshwater diverted from sensitive ecosystems, as well as the amount of wastewater and the pollution it carries discharged to waterways.
  • Although wastewater reuse is energy intensive, it often yields an energy savings because pumping imported water (from outside sources) consumes much energy itself. In Orange County, recycling water for the groundwater replenishment system takes half the energy of importing water.

Water reuse, however, is not automatically right for every circumstance. There are a lot of places where the wastewater would have otherwise been important in returning to, say, a river or stream.

The biggest hurdle, however, lies in gaining public acceptance. When people hear about “toilet to tap” technology, they get nervous and grossed out. That’s why when municipalities look at reuse, the hardest part usually isn’t figuring out the right technology or engineering the system; it’s educating the public and involving them in the process in order to gain their approval. As public understanding of water reuse grows, so will the acceptance of its practice.

There’s no way to tell where else potable reuse, direct or indirect, will be adopted, but it’s clearly the direction more municipalities are taking. As water scarcity becomes a closer reality for many, people have no choice but to overlook the “yuck factor” that may have constrained the pursuit of reuse in the past.

Water reuse is not inexpensive but new sources of water are even more expensive to come by which is why turning food waste into water with the Eco-Safe Digester makes sense and fits in nicely with cities utilizing water reuse technology.

Portions of this article was first published by Rachel Cernansky on December 16, 2013

New NYC Food Waste Recycling Law Will Have a National Impact

statueofliberty
With only four days remaining in 2013, the New York City Council passed path-breaking legislation requiring commercial food scraps from the largest food service establishments to be recycled. The new “Commercial Organic Waste” policy continues the momentum of similar state-wide policies requiring food waste recycling passed in Vermont and Connecticut and initiatives in cities like San Francisco, Austin, Portland and Seattle. Expected to be signed into law in early 2014, Mayor Michael Bloomberg noted that “[this] initiative is a significant step towards our NYC goal of diverting more waste from landfills” intended to reduce the City’s greenhouse gas emissions from waste disposal. “Nationally, this will bring attention to one of the easiest steps cities and states can take to improve the environment and economy: require organics in the waste stream to be recycled just like everyone should recycle glass, metal, paper and plastic.”

NYC’s extraordinary action will be a shot of adrenaline to the growing on-site digester, biogas, and compost industries which are ready, able and willing to manage organic wastes as a resource. This policy fulfills a fundamental next step in forcing companies to define proper waste management strategies for those generating large amounts of food waste that can no longer be sent to landfills.  On-site aerobic digestion is one of the more progressive and reliable technology solutions available on the market today.  Products like the Eco-Safe Digester handles food waste at the point of generation with no residual food waste to store or transport while converting food into net new water.  It is that simple and that easy.

Combined with the City’s recent adoption of a law establishing organic resource collection pilots from schools and residences, building on the install base of on-site digesters already implemented in dozens of locations, and the initial efforts by local haulers to begin the process of diverting organics, Intro 1162 extends the City’s intention to divert thousands of tons of food scraps from disposal in distant landfills to a range of better, local options.

With the passage of this initiative, NYC is taking a bold and decisive step toward establishing a sustainable environment for its citizens. BioHitech America is working closely with more than two dozen commercial food waste generators and the City to promote the use of the Eco-Safe Digester in order to ensure the economic and environmental success of this important legislation. Frank E. Celli, CEO of BioHitech America’s Eco-Safe Digester commented, that “we are prepared and available, anytime to lend our expertise to New Yorkers and their businesses in order to help them set up a process to manage their organic material properly.”

PepsiCo Closes The Loop On Sludge

fritolay

PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division operating two snack and three beverage facilities in Turkey were searching several years ago for new ways to recycle manufacturing waste. As part of the zero-waste commitment for its manufacturing operation, they made the decision to invest in anaerobic digestion technology.

During the chip-making process, waste from potatoes, corn, broken chips and other organic materials are treated using an anaerobic digester, which uses microorganisms to break down organic materials in an oxygen-free environment. The result of anaerobic digestion at the Frito-Lay Turkey facilities is biogas and a sludge-like, highly organic material called digestate.

The biogas is captured and used to generate approximately 35 percent of the electricity needed to power its two Frito-Lay snack food facilities and PepsiCo figured out a way to turn the nutrient-rich digestate into a more efficient, less costly and environmentally friendly fertilizer to grow the 120,000 tons of potatoes that supply the company’s production facilities.

Frito-Lay’s use of its new digestate,  Naturalis,  on Turkey potato farms has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 11 percent over previous fertilization methods. The new fertilizer applies less nitrogen to the soil, especially synthetic nitrogen, adds organic material and generates less greenhouse gas than traditional chemical fertilizers during the manufacturing process. The conversion to Naturalis also reduces digestate disposal costs providing greater control over the fertilizer production process which will provide Frito-Lay potato suppliers more stable prices.

The idea was a collaboration between the manufacturing team, which was trying to find a better way to dispose of the biodigester waste, and PepsiCo agricultural advisors, who were trying to reduce the negative impact of soil additives used to grow potatoes. As the team was thinking about what to do with the sludge, another team was looking for new fertilizer approaches that were more sustainable.

So successful were the results, in fact, managers of the facility in Belgium are currently exploring with the Turkey agriculture team for future opportunities to produce organic fertilizer at the Belgium facility. The Turkey team is also testing variations of the organic fertilizer on cotton, corn, sugar beets and sunflower crops, and soon plan to sell the product on the open market.

Piles of Garbage are Growing Around the World

pilesofgarbage

Projections indicate that our rate of trash production will keep rising past 2100.

A recent World Bank report projected that the amount of solid waste generated globally will nearly double by the year 2025, going from 3.5 million tons to 6 million tons per day. But the truly concerning part is that these figures will only keep growing for the foreseeable future. We likely won’t hit peak garbage—the moment when our global trash production hits its highest rate, then levels off—until sometime after the year 2100, the projection indicates, when we produce 11 million tons of trash per day.

Why does this matter? Because much of this waste isn’t handled properly: Millions of plastic fragments are flooding the world’s oceans and disrupting marine ecosystems and food waste driving hundreds of miles to landfills where it renders itself useless, is a useless waste of time and money.

Creating policies that give incentive to people to produce less waste  could be a way of tackling the problem. In many Japanese municipalities, trash must be disposed in clear bags (to publicly show who isn’t bothering to recycle) and recyclables are routinely sorted into dozens of categories, policies driven by the limited amount of space for landfills in the small country.

Very small and simple changes in the way you live can have dramatic effects on how much waste you generate. You, as a consumer, have considerable power to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill by choosing to buy products that use less packaging or are packaged in recyclable materials.

It is also worth remembering that although recycling is better than disposing of it in the normal trash, a lot of energy is consumed for both the recycling process and the transportation of the waste to and from its final destination. Any steps you make that reduce or eliminate the use of an item you would normally recycle or throw away will have a significant positive impact on the environment. Finding on-site solutions for food waste disposal and choosing products that are reusable and long lasting instead of single-use disposable products will save a lot of waste and also save money and the environment over the long term.

Garbage might seem like a passé environmental issue, but landfills will not be able to contain this growing amount of waste in a sustainable manner.  Tripling our global rate of garbage production is a particularly bad idea.

Municipal solid waste management is the most important service a city provides, measuring the extent of the problem is a critical first step to resolving it.