Bryon Lawrence directs Covanta's liquid management platform and has devoted his career to providing sustainable byproduct management solutions.
While liquid waste is a common byproduct of modern industry, properly managing and disposing of liquid waste still presents a significant operational challenge for many businesses. Part of that challenge is attributed to the fact that there are numerous types of liquid waste, each requiring an expert understanding to determine the best approach for its handling. Here’s a deeper look at liquid waste disposal and the difficulties that come with it.
Liquid waste comes in many forms, some of which are more difficult to manage than others. Liquid waste is a byproduct of almost every type of manufacturing process, be it the production of industrial materials, beauty products or pharmaceuticals (which present a host of other challenges), or the creation of food, beverages and other consumer goods. This waste often shows up as oily or metal-bearing water.
Not only is liquid waste created as a byproduct of the manufacturing process itself, but it’s also produced as part of the cleanup process. Every time a business cleans a vessel that contains potentially regulated materials, like a tote, drum or a railcar, it’s creating liquid waste that needs to be managed properly.
What’s more, a lot of materials can be classified as liquid waste on their own. That includes everything from paints, grease and oil to raw chemicals to liquid products or ingredients that can expire. None of these types of liquid waste can simply be poured down the drain.
No matter which type of liquid waste your business generates, it’s almost always more difficult to manage and dispose of than solid waste. And if you dispose of it improperly, you will do more harm to your bottom line than simply missing out on recycling benefits. Instead, it can be a major liability for your company, potentially costing millions in fines and impacting your brand reputation, which could lead to a significant loss in revenue. In addition to the negative consequences to your company, liquid waste that’s improperly disposed of can easily spread, soak into other materials or contaminate the soil. Should it get into the ground or nearby bodies of water, it can potentially harm plant, animal and human life.
Each liquid waste type and the variations among them create significant challenges in terms of maintaining the infrastructure that’s needed for their containment, handling and disposal. Because of the damaging impact that liquid waste can have on the water supply and the environment, not to mention the temptation of unscrupulous businesses that simply wash it down the proverbial sink, there are far more liquid waste rules and regulations in place compared to those for solid waste.
Depending on the type of liquid waste your business generates, these regulations can come from local municipalities, state governments or federal bodies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency. Not only are these regulations numerous and complex, but they’re subject to change, making it difficult for a generator to know if they’re maintaining compliance.
Should any of the various regulatory entities find that your business has improperly discharged, disposed of or handled industrial liquid waste, it can result in serious consequences for your company. Apart from your business being liable for significant fines, violation findings from one agency can increase the volume and thoroughness of the inspections performed by other agencies, potentially increasing your regulatory costs.
You may also find that regulatory agencies take a closer look at the rest of your organization—outside of your liquid waste operations—creating even more red tape and disruption. In the most extreme scenarios, an egregious violation can result in the revocation of permits, effectively shutting down your operation.
To maintain regulatory compliance and protect their brand while also protecting the environment from contamination, many organizations choose to work with a waste disposal partner that has specific liquid waste expertise. The right partner can help you determine if your liquid waste is suitable for wastewater treatment, or if it needs to be contained, transported and disposed of in a specialized way.
To learn more about the details of sustainably disposing of your liquid waste, take a look at our checklist, Understanding Your Liquid Waste Disposal Options.