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Industrial Wastewater Treatment: Expectations Vs Reality 

For many businesses, especially small businesses or office-based ones, industrial wastewater treatment is the same as for domestic wastewater treatment. In other words, the disposal of your company’s wastewater is dealt with in exactly the same way as the disposal of your domestic wastewater.

However, because of the processes involved in manufacturing, production and mining, wastewater can be contaminated with industrial and pharmaceutical byproducts, as well as the waste produced by the food and drinks industries. These include chemicals, oils, minerals, high levels of suspended solids, or food waste, and is known as trade effluent. It is worth noting that consent will not be given for companies to release potentially hazardous chemicals directly into the drainage system, and these must be disposed of by a specialist contractor.

Trade effluent is carefully controlled and it is illegal to discharge it without consent. A consent is legally binding, and strictly controls the volume and flow rate of trade effluent the business is allowed to discharge into the wastewater system. Not complying with the consent carries a risk of prosecution and fines and, in some cases, jail sentences.

How companies are expected to deal with industrial wastewater

In practice, many companies treat their own trade effluent before returning the water to the environment or the wastewater system. It is usually a much cheaper way of dealing with trade effluent, and it takes the pressure off the sewerage network. It is also possible that, having treated its own industrial wastewater, a company can reuse the resulting greywater.

Depending on the type of waste that needs treating, there are a number of treatment options available, for example oxygenation, filtration, evaporation, aerobic and anaerobic treatments.

The expectation is therefore that businesses will treat industrial wastewater in order to remove all the harmful contaminants before discharging it into the sewage system or the environment.


Unfortunately, reality doesn’t always match our expectations. The media is full of stories about raw sewage being discharged into our rivers and seas – and the Environment Agency’s figures show the problem’s getting worse. The news is also focusing on the amount of agricultural runoff that’s polluting the country’s rivers, most notably the River Wye, with excessive amounts of phosphates. So it’s clear that, in reality, things need to change.

What’s being done to make reality match expectations?

Water pollution has become headline news, and now the government is keen to be seen to take action. At the beginning of April, it announced its Plan for Water, which it says will “clean up our waters and ensure a plentiful supply for the future”. Measures promised include greater regulation and tougher fines, £1.6bn of water infrastructure investment, greater investment from the water companies, and a ban on wet wipes that contain plastic.

Other initiatives being developed by the water companies and businesses include a new treatment plant that will remove phosphates from the River Wye. In January, one of the chicken producers, Avara Foods, made a pledge ensuring that steps will be taken to remove manure from the land within two years, so none of its 120 farms along the River Wye will contribute to excess phosphate in the water.

New technologies are in development that will help us treat industrial wastewater more effectively in the future. A collaborative project undertaken by researchers at the University of Manchester and Arvia Technology has designed the first electrochemical process that removes and destroys contaminants from industrial wastewater in a single unit.

We are hopeful that increased awareness and public concern over industrial wastewater will have a positive impact on wastewater treatment and management. As an independent water company, we are happy to provide businesses with advice and assistance on professional wastewater treatment and management solutions.