Thursday, May 27, 2021

Totes for Water Storage

I've seen a few people on various internet sites asking about water storage in plastic "totes". Since I work with these on a daily basis, I've had to get training on the proper marking and labeling of shipping containers. Here's a basic primer on what are known as Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBC), commonly referred to as totes or shuttles.

There are several government agencies and a few Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) that set standards for shipping containers. The Department of Transportation (DOT) at the federal level has regulations set up under US Code (USC) 49, Chapter I, Part 178, Subpart N, Paragraph 703 to standardize the markings required on IBCs. Reading USC regulations is a good way to flirt with insanity, so I'll highlight the important parts.

IBCs will be marked with a series of numbers and letters, not less than one-half inch high, that designate the construction and types of materials they're designed to store. A common plastic shell inside a steel cage will be marked something like this:

31 HA1 /  Y / 0318 / USA / SCHULTZ / 
3656 / 1959 / 1040L / 59kg / 100kPA

  • The 31 means that in this instance it's a composite construction, plastic liner inside a steel cage. 
    • 11 means rigid.
    • 13 means flexible.
  • HA1 tells us that it is both plastic (H) and steel (A).
    • “A” means steel (all types and surface treatments).
    • “B” means aluminum.
    • “C” means natural wood.
    • “D” means plywood.
    • “F” means reconstituted wood.
    • “G” means fiberboard.
    • “H” means plastic.
    • “L” means textile.
    • “M” means paper, multiwall.
    • “N” means metal (other than steel or aluminum).
  • The Y means that it meets class II and III testing requirements for containing hazardous materials. II is moderate and III is minor hazards allowed.
  • The next numbers are the month and year of manufacture, important to know if someone is trying to sell you a "new" tote.
  • USA is the country of origin, followed by the name of the maker or third-party testing company that certified it.
  • Next is the maximum stack weight the shell can hold. Handy to know if you are stacking several to save floor space. 3656 kg is  8040 pounds.
  • 1959 is the maximum kilogram weight in materials the container can hold, which equals 4310 pounds.
  • 1040L is the volume; about 265 gallons max.
    • Water is 8.34 lbs/gallon, so completely filled is 2210 pounds.
  • 59KG is the empty or Tare weight, which is 130 pounds. It takes two or three people to lift an empty tote into the back of a truck.
  • 100kPA is the pressure rating; about 15 psi. This is useful if you want to try to use air pressure to unload the container.
The standard IBC "tote" is designed to hold 265 gallons of liquid. The plastic used is polyethylene (PE) or high density polyethylene (HDPE) and is food safe. PE doesn't normally hold odors, so re-using a container that was used to ship food is safe after a thorough rinse. New is better, but carefully looking for used ones can work. DO NOT TRY TO CLEAN A CHEMICAL TOTE!  Because of the construction of the plastic shell, it is almost impossible to clean the top of the inside. 

Stacking one on top of another is handy, as it puts the drain valve of the top one about 4 feet above the ground. Drain valves are usually 2 inches and threaded and/or camlock fittings. Make sure you open a vent or have an automatic vent on the top or you will collapse the plastic liner.

If you are storing water in a tote where it is exposed to light, wrap it in opaque plastic or cover it with a tarp to inhibit algae growth. Adding bleach on a regular basis will also kill anything that wants to grow in your water. Use our articles on water purification to figure out how much bleach you'll need, as it varies with the source of your water.

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