Who knows what someone will put down a toilet or a sink?

At one hospital, an employee shoved an entire lab coat down a mop sink, wreaking havoc on the solids-handling pumps and flooding a basement hallway, recalls Dave Williams, director of engineering at Liberty Pumps. A grinder pump could have chewed it up and passed it along.

More commonly in commercial bathrooms, a range of new synthetic wipes and other hard-to-tear consumer products regularly swirl down toilets to clog pipes and pumps, which, in turn, has grown the market for grinder pumps.

In the kitchen, millennials’ preferences for fresh prepared foods, rather than frozen dishes in boxes, encourages the market for commercial food disposals to cut down on the amount of organic matter destined for landfills.

Across both markets in commercial bath and kitchens, consumer habits can pose challenges and, in turn, opportunities for manufacturers and plumbing engineers.


Grinder pumps and commercial bathrooms

If you’re a new parent, the endless options for new baby wipes are probably a godsend. Plumbers likely have a different opinion. It’s good news for grinder pump makers.

“It’s a growing market because, No. 1, the economy is good,” says Steve Doolittle, product marketing manager for commercial and municipal products at Zoeller. “And a number of manufacturers have started offering smaller-horsepower grinder pumps to replace sewage ejectors due to clogging problems because of what people are discharging down their toilets and into the drains. In particular, synthetics — use your imagination. The most predominant are baby wipes. Now they have baby wipes that can be used for just about anything. Unfortunately, quite often, they end up getting flushed down the toilet.”

This means grinder pumps are replacing more sewage ejectors and solids-handling pumps to avoid backups in applications where flows are less than 200 gallons per minute, in most cases, though, there are some higher-flow grinder pumps now available for municipal infrastructure pumping stations. Manufacturers are also redesigning the cutting mechanisms to more effectively chew these durable, synthetic wipes. Doolittle says cutters have shifted away from the radial designs towards axial mechanisms.

Low-flow fixtures and more pressure sewer systems have also encouraged adoption of grinder pumps in the last several decades.

“Sewage has changed a lot from 20 years ago,” Williams explains. “There’s a lot more water-efficient fixtures. So, the solids-to-water ratio has changed quite a bit. You’re getting more possibilities of jamming and things like that. Restaurants and stores and schools can’t afford down time, so the grinders are becoming more and more popular.”

Williams says Liberty’s external cutter, compared to the recessed, ring-type cutter, is popular with customers.

“They’re kind of self-cleaning,” he said. “They don’t allow the clogging that you get with material being sucked up into a larger inlet hole.”

Amy Rainer, product manager of engineered products at Franklin Electric, sees a strong need in the market for grinder pumps that are explosion proof for projects specified as Class I, Division I by the National Electric Code. In addition, controls technology such as remote monitoring and push notifications with text alerts for alarms or maintenance requirements have been enhanced to prevent clogging, specifically for flushable wipes.

“Our FPS brand is also making advancements with hardened cutter blades that reduce wear and extend the overall pump life,” she says.

Growth in the market is occurring at the traditional commercial level, in addition to smaller grinder pumps for residential uses, and the aforementioned large grinder pumps further down the line.

“We’re really seeing the growth everywhere,” Williams says. “You know, nobody will build a restaurant now without putting grinders in, or a department store, because if you shut your bathroom down, you shut your business down. People put grinders in there for the reliability.”


Food disposers and commercial kitchens

On the EPA’s food recovery hierarchy, the worst option for food waste is sending it to a landfill or to incineration. Using the same mindset, several states are also approaching zero-waste initiatives, which, in addition to the consumer trends mentioned above, grow the market for commercial food disposals.

There are many negative impacts when food is sent to the landfill or to an incinerator, such as the release of methane gas from decomposing waste, or waste leaking into the groundwater supply.

When municipalities have water treatment plants capable of processing the food waste with anaerobic digestion, it’s more environmentally friendly.

“You’re capturing the CO2, you’re recovering the nutrients, you’re turning that value into energy in the form of heat or electricity, and you’re also getting that water and treating it right away so it can be reused,” says Erica Vranak, director of marketing for InSinkErator’s commercial solutions group. “It’s kind of the complete, full circle. You have ways that you’re able to reconvert it and put it right back into the original sources.”

When Vranak uses her disposer at home and work, the waste goes to Milwaukee, and it’s recycled through anaerobic digestion. In locations where food disposers aren’t legal or the local treatment plant isn’t equipped for adequate food-waste processing, InSinkErator has the new non-sewer-based Grind2Energy system. It’s for commercial applications such as grocery stores with prepared food kitchens and other commercial locations. It includes a processing table with a drain and food disposer, which sends waste down a hose with a pump to a storage tank.

The storage tanks hold between 3,600 and 6,000 gallons, and the system is IoT enabled. Sensors watch what is happening with the system — how many times it’s turning on, how much water is going in and how full the tank is. When the tank is full, it messages the customer and the hauler, and a vacuum truck comes and pumps out the holding tank and then delivers it to an anaerobic digester.

Vranak said chains such as grocery stores have been early customers of the Grind2Energy system, even if they operate in locales where disposers are legal and the sewer system is equipped, because it provides consistency across locations.

“It’s in part due to the volume, in part due to the environmental benefit and in part due to the IoT enablement,” she says.

Onsite food disposal dovetails with millennials’ preferences for fresh and prepared foods.

“Grocery stores are moving toward a lot more fresh prepared food options,” she says. “Obviously with fresh food, you get more waste. And that’s not always avoidable waste. You get unavoidable waste. Like you’re preparing fruit salad, and you’re trimming off the melon rinds, and those rinds have to go somewhere.

“Again, it’s not that a disposer’s going on a sink just to make sure if something falls down there, it’s plumbing security. They’re actually using it for full food-waste management.”