Alternative Offsite Disposal and Waste Concentration Options

Some situations occur in which it is not possible to discharge processing solution overflows to a sewer. This may be due to stringent sewer codes that cannot be met or because no sewer system is available. Under these circumstances, it may be necessary to have the solutions hauled offsite by a waste disposal company. Such services will then treat the solutions at a centralized waste treatment facility. It is important that the company chosen be reputable and comply with all pertinent regulations; if not, the photoprocessing laboratory could be held liable for illegal disposal of the waste. The use of offsite disposal may require the processing laboratory to comply with its State's waste management requirements, including storage, safety factors, and labeling provisions.

Before signing a contract with such a waste disposal company, the laboratory manager and his or her chief technical assistant should personally visit the disposal facility. Facility personnel should be asked to describe or demonstrate their methods for handling, storing, and disposing of waste solutions. They should be able to produce permits and licenses to operate, as well as inspection records. Copies of such documents should be furnished to the prospective customer laboratory for its permanent files. The ultimate disposal of wastes from the treatment facility should be clearly stated, and the service company should be willing to furnish a signed statement to the laboratory, after each chemical pickup, that the laboratory no longer has title to the waste. The officers and principal stockholders of the company should be known, and their names checked with the state regulatory agency to be certain that they have no past record of waste-handling violations. A Dun and Bradstreet report or equivalent should be requested on the company to verify its financial stability, to ensure that it has sufficient funds to properly treat all wastes that may be in current storage at its treatment sites. The above requirements are subject to regulatory change; an attorney should be consulted before proceeding.

A laboratory that needs to use an off-site waste disposal company will often find it very advantageous to minimize waste volume. On-site evaporation of water from the waste is the most widely used technique. Properly designed evaporators are simple to operate, either manually or automatically, and can generally remove from 85 to 95% of the water from a photoprocessing waste, depending on the original composition. Up to 99% may be removed if only washwaters are evaporated, but this may be too costly an approach for these very dilute solutions because of the energy consumed. A better approach might be to use a water purification method such as ionexchange to clean up the wash water, then simply concentrate the ion-exchange regeneration chemicals in the evaporator. Preadjusting the pH of the solution before evaporation may be necessary to prevent the formation of unwanted gases at high or very low pHs.

Before purchasing an evaporator, local regulatory codes should be checked to determine whether operating permits will be required. It is also important to make sure that the waste disposal firm will agree to handle the more concentrated waste. In addition, an economic check should be made to ensure that the smaller volume of more concentrated effluent will not cost as much to dispose of as the higher volume of more dilute, unevaporated effluent, when both wastehauling and disposal charges and the purchase and operating costs of the evaporator are included (see previous section, "Evaporation").

In some branches of the photographic industry (particularly medical x-ray facilities and some minilabs), solution-service companies may contract to pick up silver-bearing waste from a photoprocessing customer, including overflow fixer, silver flake from electrolytic units, exhausted metallic replacement cartridges, and even scrap film and paper. The materials are processed and a credit for silver, minus the processing and refining charges, is returned to the laboratory. Sometimes, these companies will perform maintenance work on the processing machines and recovery devices, and may act as dealers to supply new chemicals and film or paper to the customer during their visit. With the advent of new waste regulations, these companies may be properly licensed to also haul away other wastes from the laboratory on routine pickup cycles. This option, although sometimes costly, frees the laboratory from having to worry about waste discharge and allows it to concentrate on processing photographic film and paper. The silver credit can help defray a significant part of the cost for such a service.

Summary

As a final comment, the management of any chemical waste discharges, including photographic processing wastes, is a constantly shifting target, both because of evolving regulations as well as advances in photography and waste treatment technology. Consultation with manufacturers of photographic products and reliable engineering and legal sources should be sought by any laboratory considering the appropriate, up-to-date management of its particular waste stream.

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