As a company that strives to take care of the planet, we want to make sure that our recycling process not only recycles waste plastic so that it doesn’t pollute the environment, but that the process itself is also clean so that we are not harming our ecosystem in other ways. The environmental impacts of our washing system exposes wastewater to harmful and persistent plastic micro-pollutants while our extrusion and granulation system exposes the shop and the surrounding environment to dangerous particulate and gaseous pollutants. In order to stay true to our company values, we are committed to a sustainable manufacturing design that filters the water and air from our processes to ensure the safety of the environment as well as our employees.
In this article, we wanted to share with you how exactly we go about cleaning our air and water at the Closed Loop Plastics warehouse.
How is Air Quality Measured?
Air quality is measured by the air quality index (AQI) which is a value in the range of 0 - 500 that is based on concentrations of four major air pollutants: ground-level ozone, particle pollution, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide. Higher AQI values correlate with unhealthier air quality. For more information on AQI and air quality, visit airnow.gov.
Data from airnow.gov
How is Water Quality Measured?
Factors that we use to determine and measure water quality include total dissolved solids (TDS), pH, and turbidity. The TDS value indicates the total concentration of dissolved substances in water. Minerals and matter in the water that impact the TDS value can come from both natural and human-influenced sources, but in general a high TDS value is considered an indicator of potentially harmful contaminants in the water. The EPA provides guidelines around maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) based on substances that is available here.
pH is a measurement of acidity or alkalinity in a substance, which in our case is water. A pH value of 7.0 is neutral and is the pH for pure water; however, based on the water source, the pH can range anywhere between 6.0-8.5. Activities like industrial operations can release elements like sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxide which can cause the pH to decrease and the water to become more acidic. Acidification of water can cause harm to both the environment and wildlife, so it is important to monitor the pH of the water to ensure the external processes do not negatively impact it.
Turbidity measures the relative clarity of a liquid, which is determined by the amount of light scattered by material in the water. A high turbidity correlates with cloudy or opaque water, indicating that there are particles like pollutants in the water. Below is an example of water that contains a higher than average turbidity level. As you can see, the water is considerably cloudy compared to what we typically expect clear water to look like.
Consideration for all these factors is necessary to ensure that water leaving the facility does not cause further harm to the environment. For more information on water quality, visit the epa.gov.
Regulations Around Clean Air and Water
Regulations around clean air and water are key to keeping our ecosystems safe. Our existing wastewater system in the United States is taxed with an incredible burden of keeping all the water we use and consume safe and clean. Pollutants like plastic, medications, cleaning products, and even wet wipes can shut down an entire sewage system. Therefore, as a manufacturer who produces pollutants like these, it is our job to ensure that we capture them and dispose of them properly before they end up in our municipal sewage systems.
The following are a few key regulations around clean air and water to provide additional context for the standards we use to manage our air and water.
Clean Water Act
Enacted in 1948 and expanded in 1972, the Clean Water Act “establishes the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States and regulating quality standards for surface waters.” (EPA) This act set standards for wastewater and created pollution control programs that are the main drivers behind clean water enforcement. The Clean Water Act is also responsible for the creation of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) which is the permitting program that regulates the amount of pollutants discharged into navigable waters in the United States. Under this permit program, sources of pollutants who discharge water into a point source are required to maintain a permit that sets monitoring and reporting requirements as well as pollutant limits to ensure the resulting wastewater does not hurt water quality or people’s health.
Plastics Molding and Forming Effluent Guidelines
In 1984, the EPA established this regulation to cover direct dischargers, which are sources of pollutants to discharge their wastewater directly into waters of the United States. This regulation classifies water into different categories depending on what part of the plastic molding and forming process it is used in. It then uses those classifications to inform the necessary filtration/pollutant requirements. The effluent guidelines are incorporated into the NPDES permit requirements, so any plastic manufacturer that qualifies abides by these guidelines as an NPDES permit holder.
Clean Air Act
The Clean Air Act was established in 1970 to regulate air emissions from stationary and mobile sources. It is also responsible for establishing the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) which regulates emissions of hazardous air pollutants. Under the Clean Air Act, major sources of air pollutants (sources producing at least 10 tons per year of a hazardous air pollutant or 25 tons per year of multiple air pollutants) were required to set maximum achievable limits and reduce their air pollution.
CLP’s Air Filtration
To keep the air healthy, CLP uses two key methods. The warehouse has been retrofitted with high capacity air circulation equipment on the roof that moves fresh air in and stale air out. With industrial grade air filtration units in both the warehouse and the office, particulates in the air are filtered out as the air is circulated outdoors. Additionally, we have an IQAir standalone filtration system, the IQAir CleanZone 5200, which is optimized for gas-phase filtration. Our IQAir system filters out gasses, microfine particulates, VOCs, and more down to 0.003 microns.
In tandem, we utilize an AirVisual air quality monitoring system that closely monitors the indoor air quality and CO2 to ensure that it is safe. We use the monitor to ensure that the employees operating the equipment in the warehouse are breathing in clean air and that the air leaving our facility is not contributing harmful pollutants to our surroundings.
In our warehouse, we target AQI readings of less than 50, which is considered good air according to AirNow. On average, we achieve between 20-38 AQI, coming in well below the AQI of our outdoor surroundings.
CLP’s Water Filtration
Dealing with post-consumer waste plastic necessitates a robust and fine-grained water filtration process. CLP uses an entirely independent filtration procedure that cleans the wastewater from our process before it gets sent through the conventional municipal wastewater system.
After washing is completed, the effluent water is first pumped into storage tanks, which then pump the water through a filter that removes particulate matter over 0.5 microns in size. The contaminants and particulates that are filtered out are then discarded or recycled. Below is an image of the water from above after it has been through our filtration process. Clean, clear, and free of particulates!
The total dissolved solids (TDS) value, pH, and turbidity are monitored to ensure that effluent leaving the system is actually safe to be disposed of in the conventional channels. We determine the ideal values by first measuring the original water we are bringing in as a baseline. On average the target TDS value is 500 parts per million (ppm), target pH is 7.0, and target turbidity is less than 10 nephelometric turbidity units (NTU).
At Closed Loop Plastics, we strive to ensure that every aspect of our work puts the planet first. It’s not just about recycling plastics, even though that is of key importance. It’s about making sure that both our processes and our products are sustainably and eco-consciously designed.