December 8, 2016

Giving Waste the Right Treatment – the secret is in bacteria and enzymes

Farmers and other rural communities rely on products made from blends of bacteria and enzymes to treat their organic waste and wastewater, but how effective are the products they buy? The answer is to look no further than the labels on the products.

Labels should supply vital information on what is known as the Colony-Forming Unit (CFU) count. The CFU indicates the number of viable bacteria (the total microbial activity) in a sample of a product. “Viable” refers to the ability of bacterial cells in the product to multiply. The more viable the cells, the stronger and more effective the product.

The CFU count is determined by laboratory tests undertaken by the South African National Accreditation System (SANAS). However, many products are not subjected to testing by SANAS and do not carry CFU information. Without knowing the CFU count, the buyer, therefore, has no way to determine the strength and effectiveness of a product.

Just as important as the CFU count is the methodology used to determine it. If the label contains the letters and figures SWJM:35, then you will know that the test has been undertaken according to the international best-practice standard. “We cannot emphasise too strongly the importance of knowing the CFU count and method used to determine it,” says Mike Mayne, founder of Cape Town-based Sannitree, a major supplier of environmentally friendly, biodegradable bio-enzyme products which it markets in South Africa and exports to 30 other countries.

Mayne notes that labels on Sannitree products contain information on the CFU count and the testing methodology. Products also comply with International Standards Organisation (ISO) specifications.

Not all enzymes are equal

Just as important, he says, are the types of enzymes in products. Enzymes break down the smaller solids in waste to enable bacteria to further digest the material.

However, enzymes are specific: in other words, an enzyme that breaks down fat will not break down protein. There is simply no way that one single product will work in pit toilets, septic tanks, drain lines, fat traps, sewage spills, or on grease, foul odours, and flies. There are also different categories of bacteria. Aerobic bacteria survive and grow in oxygenated environments, but anaerobic bacteria do not require oxygen to survive. Some anaerobes might even die in the presence of oxygen.

Tailor-made Bio-Enzymes

Many products on the South African market are imported. They are usually generalized products, most likely using 75% aerobic bacteria and 25 % anaerobic, with no SANAS laboratory CFU count and a standard selection of enzymes. Travelling time and long shelf life can have a negative effect on imported products.

What gives Sannitree the edge is that its products are tailor-made. The company formulates products to meet specific needs. From the time of its founding in Cape Town 30 years ago, Sannitree had the benefit of the expertise of world-renowned enzymologist Dr PG Celliers. Most of his formulations are blended by Sannitree for its specialised products. Consider this: a busy restaurant will produce far more fat than a pit toilet, so Sannitree can tailor-make a product loaded with Lipase enzymes, which will perform far better than a general product. Likewise, an overloaded pit toilet has no chance with a general product because the CFU could be too low, but Sannitree can easily adjust the count.

Bacteria and enzymes are expensive items, and it stands to reason that if the CFU count is higher in one product than in that of a competitor, it will be more expensive. The best advice is to identify your specific need and order or buy a product with a SANAS-certified CFU count to ensure that it does the job.

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