Located on the edge of a residential suburb in Brisbane, Weatherall Smash Repairs carries out business repairs and paints automotive body parts. It employs 28 staff.
During the first half of 1994, the manager, David Weatherall, became increasingly aware of the impact that business such as his might have on the local environment, especially in the discharge of polluted waste water to waterways. He also realised that residents were becoming increasingly aware of the pollutants that were finding their way to the stormwater drains from the light industries in the area. He was himself concerned about the issue of stormwater pollution because of the proximity of his business to Breakfast Creek, which is a major tributary of the Brisbane River.
Waste water generated from the panel beating and spray painting industry contains predominantly fine particulate matter arising from the wet-sanding of body panels, which have been treated with silicone based fillers (bog). This waste water is commonly called 'rub down water'. In addition, waste water may also be contaminated with small quantities of oils, grease, fuel, radiator coolant and solvents.
Cleaner production initiatives
In August 1994, David Weatherall initiated a project which aimed to reduce the volume of waste water generated by the washing and wet sanding processes in his workshop. He devised an automatic treatment unit which settles out the suspended particulates contained in the waste water. Because waste water from this industry contains only low levels of hydrocarbons (oils, grease and fuel), only simple processes are required to treat the water for reuse.
The waste water generated throughout the day drains to an underground pit within the workshop area. When the pit is full the waste water is pumped into a treatment tank, where it is automatically dosed with a chemical settling agent. The water is allowed to settle overnight and by the next day, the treated water is ready for reuse in the workshop for washing and wet-sanding.
When drained from the bottom of the treatment tank, the resulting waste stream forms a thick grey coloured sludge which can be easily collected, dried and disposed of as a solid waste. The treatment system generates about 200 litres of sludge per month and David Weatherall is in the process of designing a roofed drying rack on the site for the sludge. The need to dispose of liquid wastes from the workshop has been eliminated.
The first stage of the project was to modify the drainage of the workshop floor areas so that wash water generated in the workshop would drain to an underground pit for collection prior to treatment. This required major changes to the workshop layout and drainage, and installation of an underground pit within the workshop area.
In the second stage, the equipment required for the treatment system was installed, including a pump to remove waste water from the pit to the treatment tank; a dosing pump to dose-treat chemicals used in the tank; and a storage tank to hold the treated water prior to reuse.
The third stage involved extensive testing of the treatment system, including water testing to ensure that the treated water was of a quality suitable for reuse.
In conjunction with reuse, water wastage has also been reduced through the installation of demand control water nozzles in the high water use, detailing and washing area, resulting in the delivery of water only when needed.
Advantages of the process
The new process has cut water usage from 15,000 litres of water to 1,000 litres from the domestic water supply per week, saving approximately $730 per year. Disposal to the sewer has been completely eliminated, saving approximately $470 per year. Total direct savings are thus about $1,200 per year.
The costs involved in designing and setting up the system was estimated to be $25,000. While direct cost savings are relatively small compared to this, they are expected to increase as the cost of water and sewer charges continue to increase. David Weatherall also believes that many indirect, unquantifiable savings have occurred as a result of increased efficiency of the workshop in general, and the increased productivity of his employees. He has estimated a 20% increase in productivity as a direct result of improvements made as part of the project.
Within the panel beating industry significant marketing advantages are to be gained from being a recommended repairer with the various insurance companies. In the near future it is likely that insurance companies will include environmental factors within their selection criteria for recommended repairer status.
Cleaner production incentives
David Weatherall's overriding motivation for starting the project was not really the expected cost savings. Rather, it was to provide a healthy workplace for his employees and to demonstrate to his residential neighbours and other operators in the industry that his business operates in a professional and environmentally responsible manner.
Due to the relatively small size of the business (28 employees in total), it was easy for David Weatherall to keep his staff in touch with the aims and plans for the project. While no formal staff committee was established, David Weatherall discussed his vision with the staff and on occasions, staff helped with construction work on weekends during the early stages of the project.
David believes his employees have gained a sense of pride from working in an environment where the wastes generated are managed in a responsible manner and do not cause harm to the environment.
The concept is obviously one which would benefit other panel shop operators and there was also a marketing opportunity in sharing this technology with the Smash Repair industry.
A consulting and marketing subsidiary was formed and within a short period Auto-tek (Qld) Pty Ltd has shown other repairers the benefits in both dollars and to the environment in applying this concept.
There are now a number of the Automotive WasteWater Recycler Units in other panel shops providing reusable water for Washing and detailing vehicles, water for rubbing down in the paint area, water for the water curtain in the spray booth, water for general workshop cleaning, water for landscape watering.
As a result of the introduction of this recycler, Weatherall Smash Repairs and Auto-tek (Qld) have between them, received a number of commendations and awards for their environmental initiatives including: Brisbane City Council Waste Saver Award 1995, 1996 and 1997 and was one of the first recipients of the Green Licence for environment responsibility.
Weatherall Prestige Autobody, as it is now known, continues to strive for improvements in its operations and have over time introduced further concepts including: Water based Paints (reduce the amount of solvents), Dust Extractor Systems (reduce and capture dust generated in the sanding process), HVLP spray guns (reduce the amount of paint being sprayed), Paintless dent repairs (repairs without grinding, sanding or painting) and Special Air Compressors (reduce the amount of noise generated).