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A vacuum truck is a tank truck with a heavy duty vacuum designed to pneumatically load solids, liquids, sludge or slurry through suction lines typically 2-4" in diameter with 3" being the norm. The typical pump used in the industry is the rotary vane vacuum pump. The truck can be configured to be a direct belt drive, or a hydraulic drive system. There are two different ways to mount the pump either directly on the truck with the vacuum drive powered by the truck motor, or on the trailer with an independent motor. Each application has different handling characteristics.
Other names used
Other names used for vacuum trucks: vacuum tanker, "Sucker truck" (in Australia) or "Sewer Sucker", "Hydro-vac" or "vac-trucks" (in Canada). Slang terms include: "Honey truck", "Honey Sucker", "Honeywagon", and "honeysucker" (in India and South Africa), all (probably) derived from honey bucket.
When a vacuum truck is used to transport fecal sludge then it can also be called "Fecal sludge truck".
Vacuum trucks are used by town, and municipal, governments, and by commercial entities around the world.
All forms of sanitary waste disposal are handled by vacuum trucks. They are used to empty septage from cesspits, septic tanks, pit latrines and communal latrines, for street cleanup, for sewer clean out, and for individual septic systems  and can also be used for cleanup of contaminated soil. The trucks are used in the cleaning of sanitary sewer lift stations. Vacuum trucks are used to empty portable toilets. In commercial aviation, vacuum trucks are used to collect waste from airplane toilets. Vacuum trucks discharge these wastes to the sewer network, to a wastewater treatment plant, in a pit for composting, or—usually illegally—into the environment. The latter practice, called "institutionalised open defecation", is dangerous since it constitutes a health, and environmental, hazard.
Vacuum trucks are used in the petroleum industry, for cleaning of storage tanks and spills. They are also an important part of drilling oil and natural gas wells, as they are located at the drilling site. Vacuum trucks are used to remove drilling mud, drilling cuttings, cement, spills, and for removal of brine water from production tanks. They dispose of this in sump pits, treatment plants or if within safe levels may be spread out in a farmer's field.
Vacuum trucks are also used for exposing underground utilities. The ground is jetted with water, and the vacuum truck sucks up the muddy product. This exposes the buried utility without the possibility of damage, as would be possible if a digging machine were used (i.e. tractor backhoe, tracked or wheeled excavator, ditch witches).
Vacuum trucks in Bangalore, India
A typical vacuum truck (or "honeysucker truck") in India has a capacity of 3,000 litres and serves about five buildings a day. Assuming a 2-year emptying cycle one truck can cater to about 3,000 to 4,000 buildings or 15,000 to 20,000 people. Vacuum trucks are an alternative to the dangerous and humiliating practice of manual scavenging that became illegal in India with the Manual Scavenging Act of 1993. In the city of Bangalore alone, it is estimated that there were up to 200 such trucks in 2012, serving more than 3 million people. These vacuum trucks are operated by private companies without the need for subsidies. The charge for emptying a septic tank is between 1,200 and 3,000 Rupees (USD 24 and 60) every two years. After three months of composting, a truckload of compost can be sold for 1,500 to 2,000 Rupees (USD 30 to 40). In the Bangalore area, compost is used primarily on banana and coconut trees.
Compost can generate revenues since it replaces expensive fertilizer. If septage is discharged on land for composting, each vacuum truck requires one hectare of land for composting.
- Lloyd Kahn, John Hulls, Peter Aschwanden, The Septic System Owner's Manual Shelter Publications, Inc., 2007 ISBN 0-936070-40-4 page 49
- "Soil tests show no risk". Chronicle Herald. July 31, 2009.
- Vishwanat Srikantaiah, Biome Environmental Trust: Sanitation without pipes - The 'Honeysucker' Approach to Human Waste Management Using Vacuum Trucks, in: Water and Food Security, World Water Week in Stockholm, 2012, Abstract Volume, p. 239-240
- Elisabeth Kvarnström, Vectura Consulting, Inc. Joep Verhagen, IRC Mats Nilsson, MN Context Vishwanath Srikantaiah, Biome Karan Singh, Biome Shubha Ramachandran, Biome. "Honey-suckers: Sanitation without pipes. Eco-san at work?" (PDF). Retrieved 2 September 2012.
- Rainwaterharvesting.wordpress.com (10 November 2011). "Eliminating manual scavenging – The Honey-sucker approach". Retrieved 2 September 2012.
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