Land application ban means big adjustments in septage disposal methods.

The owner of a very large septic pumping company in Florida has been planning for this day to come: the day that the state ban on land application of septic tank waste goes into effect. That day arrives June 30, and Metro-Rooter Plumbing Service owner Tom McLaughlin has been preparing for years.

“When they started making these kind of noises a few years ago about stopping the land spreading, we took it seriously,” says McLaughlin, who has been in business almost 40 years.

“We’re going to adjust,” he says. “We are attempting to up the amount of waste that we can deal with at our industrial pretreatment site at our facility here.”

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McLaughlin isn’t the only pumper, of course, that will be forced to find alternative disposal methods. In 2010, the state legislature voted to ban the land application of septic tank waste beginning in 2014; the effective date was later pushed back to June 30, 2016. SB 550 was enacted, in part, to help protect springs and waterways from nutrient pollution.

But despite the supporters’ claims of the positive effects of the ban, pumpers like McLaughlin are likely to see a negative impact — in finding other methods of disposal that will likely cost more money and quite possibly, he believes, put smaller pumpers out of business.

“It’s devastating to these small mom and pop companies,” he adds. “They don’t know how to overcome this stuff.

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“I encourage them to lobby some municipalities … and public utilities to expand their facilities to handle septic and grease trap waste,” McLaughlin says, admitting that SB 550 is rife with political posturing, so that may make things more challenging.

Investing in the future
McLaughlin has put a lot of time, space, research and investment into septage disposal management; his company disposes of about 20,000 gallons per day. To that end, they utilize three primary disposal sites, including one on his own 7.3-acre property.

Like most pumpers, Metro-Rooter uses a city facility (Jacksonville) and pays a dumping fee. And they used to dump about 121,000 gallons per month at a nearby ranch.

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Right now, about 25 percent of the waste Metro-Rooter collects goes to land spreading, 40 percent is treated at their site and the balance goes to the city.

To supplement his dumping and land spreading, McLaughlin also uses dewatering boxes on his site to improve the quality of what they send to the treatment plant.

“We are using our facility and learning how to do it and improve it; the city restricts the condition of the sewage you put in the lift station, we have to clean it up sufficiently to meet those standards,” he says. “We are kind of learning as we go.”

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On their own site, they degrit and remove the heavy material/debris from the septage. “We remove the heavy solids and then we have an industrial pretreatment permit; we have a lift station on site that we discharge to.” The lift station has two 10 hp Myers pumps, a NEMA 4x stainless steel enclosure, duplex control panel and Department of Environmental Protection-rated 15- by 8-foot wet well. The cost for the lift station, including installation, was approximately $125,000.

McLaughlin estimates it costs about 2.5 cents per gallon to treat on his site, and the price is trending up as they increase the volume and efficiency on the site’s pretreatment system.

“We’ve been working on improvements on an ongoing basis,” he says. “We’ve got out there something like $400,000 in treatment equipment; we’ve increased it and will continue to do so.”

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But costly improvements and changes in what companies can accept may not be possible for all practitioners. McLaughlin notes, “The biggest potential problem with this rule are folks that are getting their grease traps pumped. They are mandated to be cleaned. However, it’s going to become very difficult to get service,” since it will be challenging for pumpers to dispose of grease waste. Now McLaughlin says he may have to turn away grease trap business.

“We can only do so much through our system efficiently and without odor issues,” he says, noting they will have to absorb the 8,000 to 10,000 gallons per day they were land spreading on their site.  “It’s going to tax our system,” he says, but hopes to add another processor.

“We are investing more,” he says. “We just put in another processing tank so we can handle more grease waste, we’re buying more dewatering boxes and are in the final stages of implementation of our polymer station.”

The polymerization will treat solids at his facility. “We’re going to take those solids and hit them with a polymer to extract more of the water and make the solids more dense for disposal, at this point, to a landfill,” McLaughlin says.

Some companies that can process the waste can ship the nutrient-dense waste to a fertilizer company, but he warns that would not be a profit center. “You’d be lucky to find someone who would take it who wouldn’t want you to pay something,” he says. “It’s a commodity that would need additional processing.”

So while McLaughlin remains unhappy about the land spreading legislature, he feels confident that he planned ahead and hopes to stay in business despite the challenges the bill has brought with it.

McLaughlin hopes to see a reversal of the ban, possibly even within the next year when the legislature sees “how much of a problem it is."

“If the restaurants can’t clean their grease traps because no one will take it, that’s going to spiral out of control.” 

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