A Receiving Facility For Trucked-In Grease And Sludges Pays Dividends In Pennsylvania

A Pennsylvania treatment facility helps make up for income lost with industrial plant closings by installing an efficient receiving facility for septage, grease and sludges.
A Receiving Facility For Trucked-In Grease And Sludges Pays Dividends In Pennsylvania
Business team members for the trucked waste receiving facility at DELCORA are, from left, Barbara Bonnett, Harry Bordley, Bernadette Bohn, Debbie Zetusky, Joe Centrone, John Berry, Chris Lenton, Ian Piro, Mike Cherico, Robert Powell and Mike DiSantis. Not pictured: Mark Dorrin Jr. and Dan Dutton.

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Over the years, the Delaware County Regional Water Quality Control Authority (DELCORA) lost wastewater flow and revenue as major industries closed down or curtailed operations.

The choice then was clear: find new sources of revenue or be forced to load more capital and operating costs on remaining ratepayers, including homeowners. The agency, based in Chester, Pa., chose to help rebuild its revenue stream by greatly expanding its trucked waste business.

Today, that business generates millions in revenue at the authority’s 50 mgd (design) activated sludge treatment plant. It’s a sophisticated operation built around a facility designed to be efficient and hauler-friendly. There are lessons in the authority’s experience that could benefit other clean-water agencies that have potential to build significant business accepting hauled-in materials.

Chris Lenton, human resources specialist and leader of the agency’s Trucked Waste Team, and Mike DiSantis, the authority’s director of operations and maintenance, talked about the program in an interview with Treatment Plant Operator.

TPO: What was the impetus behind raising the profile of the trucked waste business?

DiSantis: When this plant was originally built, it had more industrial than residential flow. One oil refinery and one paper mill alone comprised more than 28 mgd, and there were other industries, as well. Then, as has happened in other industrial areas in the Northeast, those flows declined. At the end of 2012, an oil refinery closed suddenly, taking away 6 mgd of wastewater that we used to treat. The paper mill at one time had 11 paper machines and was sending 15 mgd; they are down to three paper machines and send us 4 mgd.

Because in terms of residential development this area is pretty much grown out, we had to find new ways to replace that lost revenue, or our remaining ratepayers would have to cover all of our fixed operating expenses, plus all the capital costs required to keep a 40-year-old facility going. The revenue stream from trucked waste helps offset that.

TPO: How did you go about expanding the trucked waste business?

DiSantis: Ten years ago, the trucked waste business was languishing. We had a business, but no one was doing much to promote it or to help meet the needs of our hauler customers. We recognized that we were under-loaded at an average flow of about 28 mgd. We saw that we could definitely take in more waste and use that revenue to offset operating expenses without major additions to the staff.

We formed a cross-functional business team that includes representatives from accounting, customer service, engineering, O&M and laboratory. We sat down and created a business plan and then went out and implemented it.

TPO: What happened to the trucked waste business volume as a result of the business plan?

DiSantis: The business started growing rapidly. We didn’t have to lower prices, and we didn’t have to make any drastic changes to what was already in place. At the end of 2004, we saw about $280,000 in gross revenue from trucked waste. In 2005, which was the first full year we went at it full-speed, we jumped to more than $800,000.

Paying closer attention to customer service and promoting the business really made a difference. The team kept evolving. We procured a customized software program to handle billing for the trucked waste business. We developed truck routes to help the customers. We offered incentives such as discounts to haulers. We provided a contact list so they could call us and get assistance with how to permit their wastes and their trucks. We made it easier for the haulers and waste generators and showed them that we were here to service their needs. Last year, in 2013, we received $3.6 million in trucked waste revenue.

TPO: How large is your service territory for trucked waste?

Lenton: We receive material from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. One customer occasionally comes up from Virginia.

DiSantis: We have a great location, right off Interstate 95. I’d say the majority of the waste comes from a 60- to 70-mile radius around us.

TPO: What led to the creation of the new receiving facility?

DiSantis: We recognized about two years ago that we needed to upgrade the receiving facility. We had three receiving areas in the plant, for receiving trap grease and restaurant grease, for industrial and municipal sludges, and for all the other wastes — septage, industrial wastewater, holding tank waste, food processing waste and others.

We had seven ports piped in above ground. Once the haulers came in with their rigs, they had to sit in a queue, and then when it was their turn they had to back up into a spot. We came up with the idea of a facility that would look like the fuel islands at a giant truck stop. Haulers would pull in, unload and drive straight out — there would be no backing up. Any size truck would fit, whether a tractor-trailer, a 10-wheeler or even a small six-wheeler.

We built a 10-bay receiving facility that allows our customers to unload a tractor-trailer in seven minutes. In the past we had been running upward of 20 minutes to get some trucks out of here, and time is money to the haulers — they want to go in and out. When we opened the new facility last January, we got resounding feedback on how much they appreciated it.

TPO: How exactly do the trucks empty their loads?

DiSantis: We have a pump station at that end of the plant. We built a collection manifold that goes right into that pump station, which delivers the waste to the head of the plant. All they have to do is connect a 4-inch quick-connect hose, open a valve and they’re unloading. At each connection there’s lighting, and they have water to wash down their hose. Everything is heat-traced for winter operation. We’re doing another upgrade to our grease receiving area. Today, drivers have to pressurize to unload. In the new area, they will be able to unload by gravity, which is a big deal. That’s the kind of improvement our business team works on continuously.

TPO: How do you record the material received and how are haulers billed?

Lenton: Every load is manifested and sampled. We have a pretty tight monitoring program. Before a truck is allowed to unload, the driver comes into our receiving area, gives the receiver a manifest, takes a sample cup, and goes out and gets a sample of the load from a sample port for testing. All manifests we receive from haulers are put into our Sludge Accounting System by the receiver. That information is uploaded to accounts payable.

TPO: What else has been done to make it easy for haulers to do business with DELCORA?

DiSantis: It doesn’t cost anything to become a permitted hauler here. They just have to show proof of insurance, provide a list of all their equipment and sign an agreement with us to follow our rules and regulations. The permitting process can be completed in one or two business days.

TPO: What volume of trucked waste do you receive?

DiSantis: We average about 500,000 gallons per day, or about 15 million gallons a month, counting all three kinds of wastes. That’s about 180 million gallons a year.

TPO: How is all this waste handled so that the core treatment process is not upset?

DiSantis: Our aeration process is automated. It works off dissolved oxygen control that regulates the blowers to control the air header pressure. The aeration system just reacts to the waste load automatically. Of course, of the 500,000 gallons per day, not all of it goes into the process. The municipal and industrial sludges are about 100,000 gallons a day, and the grease accounts for another 100,000 gallons per day. Those wastes go directly to solids handling. So that leaves about 300,000 gallons a day going through the plant, against a total flow today of 36 mgd. So the trucked waste is really a small percentage of the flow.

TPO: What happens to the solids stream?

DiSantis: The trucked grease and sludges and the sludges from our process are first thickened on gravity belt thickeners. Then the material goes to belt filter presses for dewatering. The resulting cake at 28 percent solids is incinerated.

TPO: Did customers have input to the design of the receiving facility?

Lenton: We had a basic design, but we sought the haulers’ input. As we developed the project, we were constantly in contact with the haulers to get their ideas on what they wanted in the design, what their wish lists were, what would make their jobs easier. We even had one hauler who lent us one of his trucks and a driver to put the facility through the paces on a Sunday, before we finalized the design. We listened, and we couldn’t be happier with the finished product. And the haulers are singing the praises of it.

TPO: How did you go about getting the haulers’ feedback?

Lenton: It was a combination of small group and individual discussions. The haulers pretty much come in on a daily basis, so we had formed good working relationships with them. They feel pretty free to give us their unbiased opinions about whether something is good or bad.

TPO: What kind of outreach did you undertake to attract new customers and expand the business?

Lenton: Word of mouth played a big part. Once they found out about our pricing and our customer service, business started multiplying. The main catalyst was Mike DiSantis. He had been in this business for a long time and had a large number of contacts made over the years working at different facilities. With the relationships he had, word spread fast.

DiSantis: Our business team decided that we should be attending conferences including the state and regional Water Environment Associations, the state Rural Water Associations and the Pennsylvania Septage Management Association. Some we attended once, some we attended a few times. That raised our profile and got people talking about us.

TPO: What steps do you take to sustain the business?

DiSantis: I can’t say enough about how important the relationships are. Many of the people on our team have built relationships with the customers, and that makes a difference.

Lenton: We hold hauler appreciation days, and we have a dinner once a year for the principals. That way they can meet all the people on the team and put faces with the names. We do things like that to keep the relationships fresh and on a social as well as professional basis. Customers seem to like that.

TPO: What advice would you give to other entities that might want to expand their trucked waste business?

DiSantis: You have to recognize that it’s a business and treat it like a business. Unfortunately, many municipalities I’ve seen act as if they’re doing the haulers a favor, instead of the other way around. You also need to have precautions in place to protect your facility — to make sure you don’t receive anything you shouldn’t receive, or take in a waste that you can’t handle. You need a really good system of checks and balances.


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