The Radiator Warehouse commenced operation with three staff in 1991, servicing car radiators at premises at Underwood in Queensland. The company cleans, repairs, and recores radiators, and also deals with air condensers, air conditioning pipes, and evaporators. After a first year turnover of $150,000, the company now has an annual turnover of more than $500,000, and employs eight staff members. It recycles 95% of the water it uses, and recovers all the heavy metals in the waste water.
Most companies in the radiator business use large quantities of water to flush car radiators during servicing. They then add chemicals to help extract heavy metals from the waste water. This waste water is usually discharged directly to stormwater or sewage infrastructure, and the heavy metals disposed of to landfill by a contractor approved by the Department of Environment.
Cleaner production initiatives
When it decided to enter the radiator cleaning business, Radiator Warehouse thought that the key to its success would be to minimise operating costs by using water in the most effective way. The company also had a commitment to the environment and, therefore decided on two main objectives:
- firstly, to avoid water wastage, and
- secondly, to do everything possible to minimise the company's impact on the environment.
After reviewing its proposed operations, Radiator Warehouse decided that it could achieve both objectives by recycling its waste water. Thus, its cleaner production strategy was born.
The company founders visited a radiator trade show in the United States to investigate overseas technologies in waste water recycling but concluded that the sophisticated processes seen at the trade show might be prone to electronic breakdowns. Upon returning home, they decided to design their own waste water recycling system. They came up with a concept that, like many successful innovations, derives its strength from simplicity.
The key to Radiator Warehouse's recycling system is the use of a swimming pool sand filter. Radiators are first tested in a liquid tank containing water and neutralisers. This mixture stops the tank from rusting out and avoids acid sores on the worker's hands.
The radiators are then cleaned in a wash-off tank containing a submersible pump. The water is pumped through to the swimming pool sand filter, then piped to two cone-shaped settling tanks in which the fluid is forced down by a special box built inside; this stops the fluid from flowing straight across and out of the tank before it has a chance to settle. From the settling tank, the water is then piped to a flat-bottomed holding tank, and a 0.5 HP pump returns the clean water for reuse. The residue of heavy metals is recycled.
The system has been tested and put into place before Radiator Warehouse began operations.
Advantages of the process
Using the liquid waste recycling process has eliminated the company's need to constantly rely on fresh water supplies. In the past three years of operation, the water has easily been maintained almost to drinking standard without any need for added chemicals.
The company's annual water consumption is between 20,000 and 30,000 litres per year, compared with the estimated 500,000 litres it would have used if waste water was not recycled - a saving of around 95%. If in the future, the company faced water restrictions or increased water costs, it will not be adversely affected as it continues to use the same recycled water.
Radiator Warehouse invested $10,000 in its liquid waste recycling system. This produced an immediate saving of twice this amount. Had it not installed a liquid waste recycling system, the local Council would have insisted that it laid large-capacity water pipes at a cost to the company of around $20,000, more than twice the cost of the recycling system. Instead, the new recycling process has been approved by the Brisbane City Council and Logan City Council, and has been favourably reviewed by the Queensland Department of Environment and Queensland Workplace Health and Safety.
The company has also saved at least a further $2,500 per annum in water expenses.
Cleaner production incentives
Cleaner production meets both the financial imperatives facing a small business like Radiator Warehouse, as well as the company’s desire to minimise environmental impact. Radiator Warehouse believes it is one of the only radiator servicing businesses in Brisbane recycling its used water. As a result of cleaner production and the relative cost savings it has brought about, Radiator Warehouse has been able to keep prices competitive. As a result, business continued to improve, and the company has employed two new workshop staff over the past three years.