What Are the Best (and Cheapest) Ways to Dispose of Ion Exchange Resins?


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When thoughtfully applied within a water treatment system, IX offers cost-effective and efficient separation, with systems generally running for several years without major maintenance costs. Still, one must be mindful that IX resins degrade over time and must be replaced periodically to maintain system performance.

If you’re wondering what happens when an IX resin reaches the end of its useable life, you might be asking “What Are the Best (and Cheapest) Ways to Dispose of Ion Exchange Resins?”

This article will discuss IX resin disposal options and how to cost-effectively maintain an IX system throughout its life cycle.

How do I know if IX resin disposal is needed?

In most industrial applications, an IX resin will last 4-10 years before system economics would favor replacement (or “re-bedding”). The service life of a resin will depend on a number of factors, including the chemical makeup of the stream to be treated, the type of IX process and resin used, how often regeneration cycles are needed, the hydraulic load of the resin, and whether any extreme process conditions exist. IX resins degrade gradually with use, making it difficult to tell exactly when they must be replaced. For most facilities, resins should only be discarded when the output quality or loss in capacity justifies the re-bedding costs, which can be substantial, as they include removal and disposal of old resin, and purchase and installation of new resin.

There are a few key indicators that it might be time for IX resin replacement.  These include the amount of resin lost during backwash cycles, IX capacity loss of 10-20% or more, and inadequate quality in the treated stream. Still, the decision to re-bed should be made with careful cost analysis in mind. Certain changes in system performance, such as a drop in effluent quality, shorter service runs or higher chemical dosages, can be good indicators that the resin should be evaluated. Some companies provide analysis services to evaluate the salt splitting ability and physical condition of the resin, and can provide you with a report to compare resin performance against new.

What are the best disposal methods for spent IX resins?

Spent IX resins are considered solid waste and are typically either buried in landfills or incinerated. Recycling of exhausted resin materials is neither common nor practical since there are few facilities capable of processing the resin materials (typically polystyrene or acrylic). No matter which disposal method is chosen, care must be taken to dispose of the resin in compliance with federal, state, and local waste management regulations.

There are a few factors that can affect which disposal options are available to your facility, as well as the overall cost of the disposal process. These include:

  • Liquid content. When in active use, IX resins have significant water content. When re-bedding an IX system, care should be taken to drain away as much liquid as possible to avoid excess disposal costs.
  • Volume of the resin and void spaces. Depending upon the type of resin and bed type, there may be more or less void space between resin beads. Additionally, care should be taken to minimize the size and number of containers used to transport the spent resin, and excess volume can drive disposal costs up.
  • Resin composition and chemical activity. It is critical to check the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) of the exhausted resin to verify whether the resin itself demands any particular disposal considerations.
  • Resin contamination. While most unused resins are non-hazardous, they can be contaminated by exposure to various materials in process streams. If the resin has been exposed to any hazardous materials, such as heavy metals, then it will either need to be treated as a hazardous waste, or the toxic materials will need to be stripped out of the resin material prior to disposal.

Consideration of these and other factors will help to determine an effective disposal strategy appropriate to the processes and materials used at your facility.

How do I cut IX resin disposal costs?

IX resin replacement can be an expensive process, and disposal costs can really add to the investment. The best way to minimize disposal costs is to minimize the volume and frequency of exhausted resin generated by your process. Below, we have outlined some alternative approaches to consider in order to minimize IX resin disposal costs.

Optimizing IX resin service life

IX resins typically last for several years, however, if an IX system is not optimally configured, a number of problems can impact system efficiency and shorten the service life of the resin. Since IX resins are costly to replace, it sometimes pays to conduct an analysis of the resin and of general system performance. Doing so will help to uncover any underlying causes for premature resin degradation or other inefficiencies, and can point you toward pretreatment or system optimization strategies that will prolong the IX resin life.

Adding new resin material

In some cases, it is possible to simply top-off an IX resin bed instead of doing a full resin replacement. Doing so will bolster system performance without the steep costs associated with disposal and replacement of a large volume of resin. Still, adding new resin to an existing bed is appropriate only to certain circumstances, such as when resin volume is lost due to leaks in the vessel or distribution system or incorrect backwash flow rates, or when damaged resin can be isolated and removed. Topping off the IX resin bed is not an ideal solution for situations where resin performance has suffered due to age, or damage from osmotic shock, oxidant exposure, or extreme temperatures.

How SAMCO can help

SAMCO has over 40 years’ experience in identifying appropriate IX resin technologies to help lower costs and waste volumes while increasing product quality. For more information or to get in touch, contact us here to set up a consultation with an engineer or request a quote. We can walk you through the steps for developing the proper solution and realistic cost for your IX treatment system needs.

To learn more about SAMCO’s innovative IX resin solutions, visit our page on ion exchange resin technologies here.

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