Lee and Thomas Auto Electrics

Improved Wastewater by Design of Washing Technology: Lee and Thomas Electrics


Courtesy of Lee and Thomas Auto Electrics

Lee and Thomas Auto Electrics received a nasty surprise when it discovered that it had violated environmental regulations. An even nastier surprise was the $10,000 quote for installing a commercial separator to remove the offending oils and waste from the wash water it used on the auto parts it serviced. But the company staff put on their thinking caps and built an alternative system that met the regulations. It cost only $500, paid for itself in less than a year in materials savings and made everyone in the company feel better about eliminating an adverse environmental impact.


Lee and Thomas Auto Electrics specialises in auto electrical and air conditioning repairs to cars and light commercial vehicles. The company has a staff of nine and is located in Phillip, Canberra. The present owners have operated the workshop for the past 11 years.

The Process

Following a fire in an adjacent bakery, ACT Electricity and Water (ACTEW) inspected Lee and Thomas’ premises. ACTEW advised the company that its wash tub and hose-down sink were not in compliance with ACTEW and ACT Environment Protection Authority (EPA) guidelines, and that unless the company changed the manner in which it washed and hosed down car parts, it could be liable for a hefty fine.

Lee and Thomas then looked at commercial separators installed in other workshops, which remove oils and waste from the water before discharging it into the sewer. After seeing the complexity of the plumbing involved with such systems, and having received a quote of almost $10,000 to have one installed, the company felt there had to be a better way to wash small parts such as alternators and starter motor components. A staff meeting was called and various ideas on how to solve the problem were discussed.

Cleaner production initiatives

Lee and Thomas' primary aims were to:

  • Remove any discharge of cleaning fluid into the sewerage system;
  • Recycle both cleaning and rinsing fluid;
  • Have a unit which could be easily moved;
  • Cut down on operating costs, such as the hire of exchangeable parts washing units.

The company tried a few ideas before arriving at a final design. It consulted ACTEW along the way to ensure the regulations were met.

The design put the washing and rinsing units side by side in one unit. The parts are first washed in kerosene just as they would be in a conventional parts washer. They are then transferred to the other half of the parts washer to be rinsed off with water before being air dried. The water is then transferred to a tank where it is separated from the kerosene. The kerosene is left to settle and is siphoned off from the impurities. The clean kerosene is then returned to the wash tank for reuse, and the clean water is left ready for reuse in the rinsing process. The kerosene separation process is performed each Monday as part of the staff routine.

The parts washer is being used with great success. Modifications are still being carried out to make it even more effective. The unit is self contained and can be moved easily.

Advantages of the process

The parts washer provides the following benefits:

  • Water is now being reused, and since the parts washer was commissioned, the company’s landlord has reported a 10% reduction in water consumption in the building (which is also occupied by two other businesses);
  • There is no longer any discharge of rinsing water, oil or dirt into the sewerage system;
  • The involvement of all staff in discussion, design or construction of the parts washer has increased their environmental awareness, and they feel that they have made a contribution towards maintaining the quality of the environment.

The cost of building the unit was approximately $500 and incorporates some recycled materials. The savings made by not having to hire parts washing units (which had previously been the case), along with a reduction in kerosene purchases, has meant that the unit will have paid for itself after its first twelve months of operation.

Cleaner production incentives

Lee and Thomas were concerned to meet their environmental obligations but were also convinced that there must be a simpler, cheaper way of doing so. The common sense, cleaner production approach of reducing waste to benefit both the business and the environment provided the answer.

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