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Effluent discharge: your responsibilities

By: Jon Greaves on Mar 23, 2020

In a previous blog post, we explored the costs, challenges and opportunities involved in effluent water treatment. We saw how increased water costs have sparked a rise in water disposal costs. The more contaminated your effluent discharge, and the higher volume you discharge, the more costly it is to dispose of.

Effluent discharge, sometimes referred to as ‘wastewater’, is liquid waste produced and discharged by any industrial or commercial premises, such as a food processing factory or manufacturing business. Every company is responsible for its own waste, and there are regulations you must adhere to. Here, we outline your responsibilities as an industrial or commercial business when it comes to managing your effluent discharge.

What you must do

Effluents may be discharged to the main sewer network, or in some cases, directly to surface water or groundwater. There are different guidelines and regulations you must adhere to depending on where the waste is being discharged.

Effluent discharge to surface water or groundwater

If you are discharging to surface water or groundwater, you must have authorisation from your environmental regulator. If you discharge without consent, you could face prosecution. Surface waters include rivers, reservoirs and canals. Groundwater is below the water table and makes up the largest available reserve of fresh water.

Many solids, liquids and gases can cause pollution if they enter the water environment. Pollutants may include chemicals, oils, and waste products. Even milk can cause serious harm to the water environment.

Effluent discharge to sewers

Effluent discharge to the sewer network is regulated by sewage companies to ensure the protection of people, the environment and the sewer system.

If your business disposes of trade effluent such as fats, oils, greases, chemicals, detergents or heavy metal rinses into the sewer system you’ll need to gain consent or a trade effluent agreement for its disposal from your water and sewage company. They will specify the type, strength, and quantity of effluent you are permitted to discharge and calculate the charges your business will need to pay based on this. If you dispose of more harmful substances, classed as “special category” effluents, your business will also need the permission of the Environment Agency. If you discharge without the appropriate agreement, you could face prosecution, fines, or even imprisonment.

All discarded materials from your effluent treatment plant, such as sludges and screenings, must be dealt with as waste. Your business is legally responsible for its waste until it is recycled or disposed of. This includes all storage and handling stages.

Your waste responsibilities

If you (or your contractor) spread sludge from your effluent treatment plant on land, you may need a waste management licence from your environmental regulator. You may be able to register an exemption, but it’s imperative you discuss any proposals with your environmental regular first.

Regardless of whether you have a permit or a licence, or are exempt, you must ensure your activities do not pose any danger to human health or risk to water, air, soil, plants or animals. You must also not cause a nuisance through noise or odours or carry out any activity that may have a detrimental effect on the countryside or places of interest.

Best practice tips

There are a number of ways you can ensure you adhere to best practice when managing effluent discharge. Most importantly, you should always follow the specific conditions of your consent or authorisation from your sewage company or environmental regulator.

Here are some other best practice methods you can implement to minimise your effluent discharge:

Improve process control

Good process control helps to ensure that you minimise the strength of the incoming flow. Flow and load balancing, for example, can reduce shock loads on your treatment plants. You may also consider using an offline tank as a holding tank in the case of emergencies.

Minimise the use of cleaning chemicals

Cleaning chemicals can be particularly damaging to the water environment, so care should be taken to minimise the amount you use. One approach is to remove as much product as possible before cleaning equipment. For example, manufacturers often implement pigging systems to push the product through the next stage of production.

Cover drains

In food and beverage manufacturing, grate covers and grease traps can reduce the amount of waste entering the sewer system. Spills should never be hosed down a drain - always use a brush or hoover instead.

Minimise your volume

Most consents to discharge are based on the Mogden Formula. The more you discharge and the more waste products that are sent to discharge, the greater the costs of disposal.

Consider de-watering or water re-use as well as recycling plants that can provide a return on investment benefit to your business. Also consider pre-treatment of discharge. By reducing parameters such as Chemical or Biological Oxygen Demand (COD or BOD) consent charges may be significantly reduced.   

Maximise storage space

You can reduce the amount of sludge you spread on land by ensuring you have enough storage capacity for the quantity of sludge your company produces.

Companies in the manufacturing and food processing industries are facing increasingly stringent environmental controls and regulations. And the regulations around effluent discharge are an important area of focus.

Effluents discharged from your industrial or commercial premises are your responsibility and you must have consent from the appropriate companies or authorities as outlined in this article, or you may be subject to fines and prosecution.

WCS Group’s Wastewater and Dewatering team provides specialist commercial and industrial water treatment knowledge which enables wastewater to be re-used, therefore reducing discharge. To find out more about how our solutions could help you, click here.

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Topics: Wastewater Treatment

Jon Greaves

Written by Jon Greaves

Jon has progressively worked through operational roles, account management, technical management, and senior management roles over the last 16 years within one of the group companies before moving into the role of Water and Air Managing Director. Jon has experience across multiple sectors of water and air compliance, including district energy networks; data centres; healthcare; food and beverage and facilities management. Jon acted as a corresponding steering committee member on CIBSE CP1 – Heat Networks Code of Practice for the UK released in 2020.

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