Practitioner's Tool / Determining Pretreatment Needs – Commercial laundry services

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Hospitals, resorts and hotels often perform laundry washing on site. Commercial laundries should use lint traps to protect sewer lines and septic tanks from clogging. Lint is made up of fibers and particles of fabrics, which can accumulate and form clogs. Lint, like grease, can clog up your pipes and add to your septage hauling bills. It also makes electric equipment work harder, which costs you money!

Lint traps are easy to install and service and are very effective in removing lint and should also be considered for home use. Lint traps should be provided either attached to the machines (as shown) or in concrete traps installed to collect the wastewater from all of the machines prior to discharge into the larger building sewer. Collected lint can be added to compost to improve soil for gardening, or if composting programs are not available, it may be collected and disposed of as solid waste.

Laundry services that include dry cleaning must separate their dry cleaning solvent wastewater from the building sewer. Dry cleaning solvents are hazardous and can kill the bacteria that make septic tanks and biological wastewater processes work.

Best Practices for Commercial Laundries

Following the below best management practices for laundry operations is beneficial to both the laundry operator and the environment. By reducing pollutants at the source, less energy and chemicals are required for operation, thereby saving money while reducing pollution.

1. Training on best management practices. Management should provide ongoing training for all laundry staff. Ongoing training is the best way to ensure the best practices will be followed.

2. Clean lint traps frequently. Cleaning lint traps frequently not only helps protect downstream pipes and treatment systems, but it also helps save energy. Accumulated lint should be composted or bagged and disposed of as solid waste. Management should witness the cleaning every time to ensure all of the lint material is removed and the lint trap put back into service properly. All lint trap cleaning activities should be recorded in a log book for future reference.

3. Chemical storage and control. Laundry facilities may use a host of chemicals that can be categorized as acids, alkali, oxidizers, solvents or other organics. Know what chemicals are being used at your facility and keep Material Safety Data Sheets on each chemical. Certain chemicals are incompatible and must be stored separately. For example, never store acids and alkali together, as a spill could cause a reaction. Similarly, products containing ammonia and chlorine should always be stored separately as spills can generate deadly chlorine gas. Train employees on the safe use and handling of each chemical, and procedures for cleanup in case of a spill. Management must provide proper safety equipment for handling each type of chemical in use at the facility.

4. Spill control and reporting. Chemical spills at laundry facilities can have disastrous impacts on downstream treatment systems and the environment. Operators should take all precautions to isolate spills from floor drains or other sewer systems. Spills should be cleaned up using nonreactive sorbent materials, which should then be bagged and disposed of safely by alerting the solid waste contractor. Report spills that enter the sewer system immediately so that treatment plant staff may take appropriate action to isolate the wastewater before it enters the treatment plant.

NOTE: Preparation and training on how to react to spills is the best defense against incurring liability due to injury or environmental damage. Discuss spill control procedures with city officials, local fire departments and wastewater treatment plant operators.

5. Water conservation and water recycling. Laundry wastewater is low in organic matter and may have high levels of chemicals such as detergents and chlorine. This may make the discharge incompatible with municipal sewage treatment plants. Check with the local community environmental officer when planning new facilities. Larger laundry operations or new laundry facilities should use on-site treatment and recycling systems that remove the lint, dirt and chemicals from the wastewater and conditions the water so that it may be recycled for reuse in the facility.

6. Dry cleaning operations and chemical discharge. Dry cleaning solvent, spent filters and lint from dry cleaning operations is hazardous material and should not be disposed of in sewers or solid waste facilities. Dry cleaning operations should use on-site wastewater treatment systems specifically designed for removal, treatment or neutralization of dry cleaning solvents. These systems use solvent/water separators, filters and secondary sorbent materials such as diatomaceous earth to remove remaining solvents. Operators must follow specific manufacturers’ instructions for the operation of wastewater treatment units receiving dry cleaning wastewater.

7. Client relationships and soiled incoming goods. Laundry owners should work closely with commercial clients that use shop rags or uniforms that may contain solvents, oil or other chemicals. Inspect incoming goods for excess liquid and notify the customer if goods contain too much grease or chemicals. Every step to minimize solvents and oil-contaminated rags or clothing should be taken. Operators should reject incoming laundry with excess solvents or oil contamination.

8. Inspection of sewers, septic tanks and sumps. Septic tanks and sumps should be checked regularly for sludge accumulation. Sumps should be cleaned regularly and septic tanks should be desludged when one third full of sludge. Septage from laundry facilities may contain high volumes of chemicals. Septage haulers should separate sludge originating from laundry facilities from domestic sludge and septage to ensure that septage treatment processes are not adversely affected. Floor drains, drip pans and sewer lines should be inspected frequently for corrosion and repaired or replaced as needed.

9. Good housekeeping practices. Good housekeeping practices means keeping a clean, neat and orderly workplace. Maintaining a proper work environment is key to preventing spills and reducing injuries, and often results in increased productivity.

10. Keep a maintenance log and record all waste and maintenance-related activities. Keep a log of all activities including sump and septic tank checking and desludging, equipment repair, maintenance and spills. Record lint trap inspection and note the volume of lint removed during service. The records will assist in the long-term planning for operation and maintenance expenses.

Proceed to Step 6: Determining Pretreatment Needs – Markets