Dewatering—“The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship”

Dewatering may be the happy ending that you’ve been looking for. It can be an excellent solution for servicers who have barriers to disposing waste, whether you are limited by dumping times, amounts, or even if your costs are just too high. It’s also a better solution for the environment, can significantly reduce your disposal costs, and become a nice profit stream of its own.

“You Gotta Problem?”

When Aqua-Zyme Services started pumping 21 years ago in south Texas, they had a problem that haunts many septic professionals—limited disposal capabilities. “I’ve heard from pumpers all over, from rural to more urban areas,” says Suzetta Bonifay, sales manager with AQUA-Zyme Disposal Systems (ADS). “There are service companies who pump in a three or four county area who come up against rules where you can’t dump waste from county X in county Y, but then county X won’t accept septic or grease trap waste. More and more cities are initiating health codes to require restaurants to be pumped out every one to three months, however, those same cities won’t accept the waste. Another scenario I’ve heard is where a wastewater treatment plant will only accept 5,000 gallons per day. When their quota has been met for the day, they stop accepting waste from pumpers. Service companies are put in a bind if they can’t do any more jobs because their vacuum truck has a full tank.”

If you’ve had to drive two hours to get to the wastewater treatment plant, only to find they won’t accept it, then not only is your day shot, but it also impacts the next day when you have to drive back there to try to dump again, limiting your profits and scheduling.

Instead of continuing to struggle with disposal problems, Aqua-Zyme Services decided to take matters into their own hands and build a dewatering box. “Now we have three dewatering sites and two composting sites in south Texas,” says Bonifay. “No one can tell us when we can dump and when we can’t. We have only one site that still has to go to the landfill and it’s located near the Mexican border. There are options available for pumpers plagued by disposal problems.”

Renegade Oil in Salt Lake City, UT invested in dewatering about 10 years ago. The company collected used fryer grease from several restaurants in the area, then expanded into kitchen grease trap and categorical waste like car washes. The landfill was charging them $80 per ton for dumping what was essentially 75-90 percent water. “Landfills don’t want to handle free liquid,” says Dennis Brunetti, vice president of sales and service for Renegade. “They don’t want to have to put down massive membranes to keep that water from leaching into the soil. By dewatering, we are not only saving money on disposal, but also turning a profit all while benefitting the environment.”

“Build It and They Will Come”

“One of the most important things for us when accepting product from other customers is to understand what we are getting from them,” says Brunetti. “We do a bench test on their product to check for levels of oil and grease. We test for chemicals, the flash point, and pH levels, otherwise you can incur a surcharge fee, basically a fine. Don’t be in violation of the controls that regulators put on you. If there is a bad boy in the waste stream, you can be hit with heavy fines.”

“Someone interested in opening up a dewatering facility needs to clearly understand what they want to collect and process,” says Brunetti. “Get MSDS (material safety data sheets) from their customers and understand what the regulators require.

We met with the Salt Lake City Pretreatment facility and the health department. It’s important to meet with these people before you start your business. Then you can start looking at dewatering systems.”

“Service companies can build their own dewatering site and allow other area pumpers to dump for a fee,” says Bonifay. “Some people have asked if those other pumpers are afraid that we will try to take their customers. I say, no, because those pumpers are doing all the work—paying for workers compensation, paying their drivers’ wages and incurring all of the pumping and hauling expenses. We make money when they dispose, and then we turn it into grade 1 compost to sell. Where most pumpers have disposal costs, we have none. We do have expenses, but between what we charge other pumpers for disposal and our income from the compost, we turn a profit. Others can do the same thing.”

ADS charges pumpers about one-third of the price charged by the local landfill to dump 15 cubic yards of dewatered sludge at their compost site. “We are saving them money and still making money,” says Bonifay.

If you want to dewater, but aren’t ready to incur the expense of a composting site, then you can often negotiate with your local wastewater treatment plant to secure a reduced fee for disposal of the water from the dewatering process.

Another option is to set up a co-op with other pumpers. “If you are having problems with disposal, then most likely other pumpers in your area have the same problem,” says Bonifay. “Setting up a co-op can help offset costs associated with setting up a dewatering and/or composting facility. If two or more pumpers go in together, it helps ease the burden of the up-front costs, still saves them money in the long run and they can still charge other pumpers to dispose at their site.”

“Show Me the Money!”

As with any new business, there are many things to consider, especially your initial capital costs. “A 30-yard dewatering system from ADS costs about $60,000, and includes a dewatering unit, polymer injection system, trash pump, and hoses,” says Bonifay. “You will also need your site permits, which may include hiring an engineer, purchasing land, site excavation, fencing, storage tanks and a dewatering pad, to name a few. The units require a 110 electrical connection and an operational garden hose for start-up, while others often require special wiring which can add thousands of dollars to the start-up tab.”

Start-up costs with equipment from Flo Trend vary depending on the amount of sludge that needs to be processed in a day/week/month. “It depends on the customer’s business and how they want to go about the dewatering process,” says Russ Caughman, vice president of Flo Trend Systems. “Some haulers want to process 5,000 gallons every one or two weeks and can do a smaller unit, while some are currently hauling 40,000 gallons a day and need a much larger unit. The cost of the equipment can be as little as $35,000 and as much as $100,000 or more depending on the processing requirements. Some of our customers will buy one unit and then add more.”

Caughman says with grease trap waste, it helps to add lime to the sludge prior to adding polymer. The lime raises the pH of the sludge making the polymer more effective in creating flocs. “We usually recommend adding enough lime to get the pH up to 9.5 before adding polymer, it makes the sludge dewater faster and you end up with a drier cake. ”

The dewatering box manufacturers interviewed here are happy to talk with you in more detail about your particular situation. They should be one of your first steps in determining if dewatering is an economical solution to your dumping problems. Each manufacturer offers different options, so doing your homework is key if you want to find your happy ending like Renegade Oil and Aqua-Zyme.

Story by Jennifer Taylor

Coming up: Look for the continuation of the saga in “Dewatering—The Sequel” as a part of our new trends issue in January.


For more information:
AQUA-Zyme Disposal Systems, visit
Bucks Fabricating, visit
Flo Trends, visit

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