Compliant wastewater disposal: Basics to know before it goes

Is your wastewater disposal compliant in every facility? From permits to pollutants, here’s a fundamentals pipeline to your best program.

Taylor Murphy

by Taylor Murphy

From federal agencies to financial investors, compliant (and conscientious) wastewater disposal is on everyone’s radar. With direct ties to health and the environment, the way you discharge wastewater plays an important role in your responsibility to protect workers and our world. Whether you’re getting started with water resource management or getting a new facility up to speed, make sure your processes and permits are up to par with these essentials.

Why does your waste management method matter?

The last step in the water management lifecycle, wastewater disposal, refers to all ways a company discharges water from its facilities. This could be from many areas of your business, including operational processes but even kitchens, breakrooms, and bathrooms.

When most of us think of neglectful wastewater disposal, the devastating impact on our environment first comes to mind. But it can also mean bad news for your business. Alongside costly fines for non-compliance, careless discharges eventually translate into a second-rate ESG score. In fact, wastewater disposal factors are part of the EHS baseline for recognized Environmental, Social, and Governance frameworks. As more investors look to ESG strategy as an indicator of sustainable business, the more you’ll need to keep your eye on how your wastewater processes bubble up in your business.

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Ensure your wastewater disposal permits are up to par

Wastewater is highly regulated at local levels (e.g., state or provincial). However, in some cases, the higher-level governments (e.g., federal or national) play a bigger role in regulating wastewater disposal. Of course, states, like in the US and EU Member States, can (and sometimes do) set stricter water quality standards than the level above them. These standards and requirements are imposed through permits.

If your business discharges wastewater from its facilities, you’ll need a permit. And, in many cases, that means a permit for each facility. You must also monitor and record certain aspects of your discharges, including pollutants in the water, where you dispose of the water, and how much water you discharge.

Watch out for wastewater pollutants

Pollutants found from wastewater disposal are carefully monitored across the world. Under EU Directive 2008/105/EC, companies must comply with their authorizations’ requirements for discharges of 45 priority substances. These substances include pollutants such as mercury, lead, and their components, as well as cypermethrin, cybutryne, and quinoxyfen. As part of its legislation “fitness check,” the EU recently announced a proposal to review the existing list of surface and groundwater pollutants along with other related directives.

Know your reporting requirements – and where they come from

Other permits specify requirements for monitoring and reporting wastewater disposal.

In the US, the Clean Water Act regulates wastewater discharge at the federal level. Specifically, it calls for a facility to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit if it discharges from a point source into the waters of the United States. A point source is any discernible, confined and discrete conveyance such as a pipe or man-made ditch. NPDES permits establish discharge limits, monitoring and reporting requirements, and could require a facility to undertake measures to protect the environment from harmful pollutants.

Many states (like Alaska, California, Florida, Maine, Missouri, and Virginia) have authorized state NPDES programs with more stringent requirements than the federal permits. So, your facilities in the US must obtain and follow either a federal- or state-issued permit, per each jurisdiction’s requirements, to discharge and monitor wastewater.

Protecting our world through compliant wastewater disposal

Compliant wastewater disposal is essential to preserving our health and environment. Getting it right in the real world starts first on paper, or, more specifically, with the proper permits. Generally, any facility that discharges any wastewater will have to obtain a permit from a national, local, state authority. This is especially the case for wastewater containing pollutants. To avoid your business falling victim to common permit pitfalls, make sure you’re reading the fine print. Check if you need facility-specific authorization and what pollutants and/or reporting requirements they include. As you align your disposal processes with legal requirements, your business will make a direct impact on the well-being of our world at large.

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