How to Recycle Solvents Easily (An Analysis of Recycling Methods and Their Labor Requirements)
Cutting costs and remaining profitable with less skilled workers is a major challenge for businesses this year. Recycling solvents on-site typically gets ignored as an effective way to address labor shortages because of a few common misconceptions. CleanPlanet’s all-inclusive Service365 on-site solvent recycling solution optimizes the way you handle solvents with the least amount of labor resources.
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Too Much Work, Too Little Time
Whenever change is suggested, everyone’s first thought is unanimously: “That sounds like too much work.” People are naturally inclined to resist change because they’re used to the familiar. There is always room for improvement, though. And despite our initial hesitancy, we can always make our jobs easier, cleaner, and more efficient. In terms of hazardous waste management, most facilities opt for off-site processing. Out of sight, out of mind is the impetus behind this decision. With solvent waste, the rationale is that shipping it off-site requires the least amount of labor resources of all handling methods. However, this line of thinking couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, contrary to popular belief, on-site solvent recycling is the least labor-intensive handling method for dealing with hazardous solvent waste
The Great Resignation
Where did everybody go? Businesses and employees around the globe keep asking themselves this very question. The truth of the matter is that there is a severe lack of skilled labor available in most workplaces today. The Covid-19 pandemic forced many individuals to rethink their careers and make life-altering decisions. Many went back to school, changed careers, and many people simply took early retirement. The fallout of ‘The Great Resignation’ is that there is too much work to be done and too few employees to carry it out.
Unfortunately, participation in sustainable waste management practices has taken a huge hit due to labor shortages. Solvent waste, for example, constitutes a considerable amount of the overall volume of waste that is generated in the world today. Most of this solvent waste could easily be recycled for re-use, but with labor shortages, every spare labor resource needs to be dedicated to production. As a result, most facilities have reverted to more rudimentary waste management practices such as off-site incineration, fuel blending and recycling. The huge misconception here, though, is that on-site solvent recycling requires more labor than off-site handling.
Off-Site Solvent Waste Handling
With labor shortages, most facilities think that by shipping out hazardous solvent waste for processing, they are diverting all spare man hours to production. Unfortunately, this is a fallacious line of thinking. Facilities that use solvent and ship it out as waste after it’s been used deal with a lot of transportation, receiving and movement of materials around the job site. Think about it: purchasers need to spend a lot of time searching for the best prices for virgin solvents and ordering it in. Once the solvent arrives at the facility – let’s say in drums – someone needs to be there to receive it and store in the appropriate place. When the solvent is needed, it then needs to be manually moved into place so it can be used in production and/or cleaning. Once it is used, it needs to be collected in waste drums, and then someone needs to move these waste drums into the 90 day hazardous waste storage area. Once there are enough drums, the EH&S needs to spend the time reporting on this waste and arranging pick up with the waste company. Finally, the truck arrives and it’s time for your employees to move all those drums to the shipping/receiving bay for loading. And then the process begins all over again with the ordering and receiving of virgin solvent. This extensive, laborious system is best visualized in the picture below.
Even though off-site solvent recycling is a much more environmentally sustainable practice, it still draws the same amount of labor resources because of all the shipments and movement of drums around the facility. Instead of receiving virgin solvent shipments, though, you’re receiving recycled solvent. This is obviously a better waste management practice for the environment, but it doesn’t address the world’s ubiquitous labor shortages.
Just thinking about the process involved in off-site solvent waste management is enough to make your head spin. When you really think about it, there are so many man hours wasted on preparing, receiving, moving, and shipping drums of solvent around the job site. More inventory means more handling, more liability, and more carbon footprint. These handling methods are obviously not the most effective at addressing labor shortage issues. They merely act as a band aid for facilities that haven’t taken the time to analyze and streamline their waste management methods to appropriately address global labor shortages. There is an answer, though, and it’s on-site solvent recycling!
On-Site Solvent Recycling
One of the main stumbling blocks to widespread adoption of on-site solvent recycling is the misconception that it takes too much time and effort to carry out. This notion has been especially reinforced considering every workplace has labor shortages in the post-pandemic age. However, as we can see in the diagram below, compared to the diagram depicting off-site handling above, there are a lot less steps involved and thus, less labor resources required.
Facilities that recycle on-site will still need to order, receive, and store virgin solvent, but at a greatly reduced rate compared to facilities that ship out their solvent waste and replace with virgin. Depending on the percent of fresh solvent that your solvent distiller can reclaim, you won’t need to dedicate nearly as many man hours to procuring, receiving and storing virgin solvent.
If you’re recycling solvents on-site, you’re also greatly reducing the volume of solvent waste you are generating. Rather than shipping out your solvent waste in its entirety, you’re only shipping out what is called your still bottom, or, the waste that is removed from your waste solvent during the distillation process. The amount of waste that you’ll be shipping out will depend on the efficiency of your solvent distiller. Say, for example, you produce 50 drums of solvent waste per month. If you’re shipping this solvent waste out, you’re maximizing the number of man hours required to deal with this waste. If you’re recycling all 50 drums on-site though – and your recycler runs at about 80% efficiency – you’re now only producing about 10 drums of waste per month. So, you’ve slashed the man hours required to move and prepare your waste shipments around your facility by 80%! And since you’re reducing the amount of solvent waste you produce, that means less time spent reporting for your EH&S department.
Competing On-Site Solvent Recyclers
Unfortunately, not all on-site solvent recyclers are created equal. Many companies such as Daetwyler, PRI, and Renzmann offer on-site solvent recyclers that can save you money and reduce the amount of waste you produce. In terms of addressing the current labor shortages, though, they fall short significantly. Operating the solvent distillers from these companies still requires a lot of man hours.
The smaller, batch units require employees to manually hook up waste drums one by one to the unit, and then pump the solvent waste into the distillation chamber. Once the distillation process has taken place, you are now left with the fresh solvent to pump off into a drum, and the dreaded still bottom. Depending on the unit, there may be a heavy, smelly and messy still bottom bag that needs to be hoisted out of the unit for disposal. This is a labor-intensive process and because of the weight of the bag, can easily result in employee injury. Facilities in this day and age cannot afford such injuries, as there is such a shortage of skilled back up. The other option is the still bottom material gets dumped out of the unit into a receptacle. This is also a manual process that requires supervision and is messy and annoying for anyone to deal with.
The larger solvent recyclers from these companies require a bit less labor, simply because of the sheer volumes of solvent waste that they handle. But when you factor in filling and setting the solvent distiller, plus pumping off fresh solvent and dealing with the still bottom, there are a lot of man hours required that could be dedicated to much more important tasks that have to do with production.
And lastly, the amount of time required to maintain and repair traditional solvent recyclers can really add up. When you purchase a solvent distiller, you typically receive a year or two of parts and/or labor warranty. After that, you’re on your own. And when labor resources are constricted, there’s rarely anyone around on staff who knows how, or even has the time to fix such a contraption. Our research has shown that after 5 years, most solvent recyclers cease to operate due to down time, and sit unused in the corner of your warehouse; taking up space and representing a monument to a bad decision.
CleanPlanet's AlwaysClean Solvent Recyclers
Luckily, there is a way to obtain all the benefits of on-site solvent recycling, while minimizing the amount of labor resources required. CleanPlanet’s line of AlwaysClean solvent recyclers are continuous, water-chilled distillers that yield up to 95% of available solvent in the recycling process with little more than a few minutes a day of employee attention. Depending on your process, you simply hook up the unit’s feed hose to a waste drum or tote, set it, and forget it. In some cases, the solvent waste can even be directly piped into the AlwaysClean solvent recycler, with the fresh solvent being pumped off directly into your bulk storage tank. Whenever the unit requires attention – such as replacing a feed vessel, clean solvent vessel, or a still bottom drum – an automatic notification is sent to your computer or cell phone via the MyCleanPlanet monitoring portal.
Unlike the competitors’ equipment, with the AlwaysClean solvent recyclers, the still bottom material is automatically pumped off as a sludge into a waste drum, so you don’t have to deal with the messy, smelly time-consuming task of still bottom removal. Once your still bottom drum is full, you’ll receive an automatic notification through the MyCleanPlanet portal, telling you to switch out the drum. This task takes little more than a couple of minutes of attention and is easy to complete.
As mentioned above, with more inventory and hazardous waste volume comes more reporting. EH&S’ spend a lot of time tracking and recording their hazardous waste shipments for reporting to the EPA. With the MyCleanPlanet monitoring portal, the process is far more streamlined because all the data is tracked and easily accessed. You’ll know exactly how much clean solvent you’re reclaiming and how much waste material you’re producing. You can then run reports and export your waste data into spreadsheets so your monthly reports take next to no time to complete.
When you purchase an on-site solvent recycler outright, your facility will need to spend a lot of time fixing and maintaining that unit to keep it running efficiently. With CleanPlanet’s Service365, all your routine maintenance and repairs are provided to you free of charge. Whenever your solvent recycler needs attention, we send a local field tech out to complete the task and get you recycling again as soon as possible. We know facilities today can’t spare the time to keep an on-site recycler running, so we take care of it for you.
On-Site Solvent Recycling is the Future
We can keep wishing them away, but our labor shortage woes are here to stay. Our nation’s age demographics tell us everything we need to know about the future: with an aging population, there will always be too few people available to carry out the work that needs to be done. We need to find ways to innovate and reduce the labor burden of the current processes that we have in place. We know that recycling solvents is your last priority, so we’ve made it our top priority. We make sure that recycling on-site requires as little attention as possible by your employees, so you can delegate that labor to more important areas tied to production.
Looking to streamline your waste management?
Looking to streamline your waste management?