What You Need to Know About Pollution Prevention - Part 2


Pollution prevention is any practice that reduces, eliminates, or prevents pollution at its source.

This effort kicked off in earnest in 1990 with the USEPA Pollution Prevention Act, which focused industry, government, and public attention for the first time on reducing pollution released into the environment through alterations in manufacturing processes, facility operations, and the use of raw materials. Importantly, this act stipulated that with such preventive measures, economic growth should not be hampered.

The Pollution Prevention Act set up best practices that are encouraged to be followed. The “old way” was about cleaning up after the fact through “end-of-pipe treatment” - managing or controlling environmental issues at a facility by treating a pollutant before it is released into the air, for example. Another example is the proper disposal of waste generated by a manufacturing operation.

Pollution prevention – which these days is often waylaid by the “sexier” term sustainability – is all about eliminating environmental issues altogether and addressing problems before they even happen, a strategy known as source reduction.

While the USEPA strives to prevent or reduce pollution at the source whenever feasible, pollutants and wastes that cannot be prevented through source reduction are diverted from entering the waste stream through environmentally safe and cost-effective reuse or recycling, to the greatest extent practicable.

The Pollution Prevention Act defines 'source reduction' to mean any practice which:

  • Reduces the amount of any hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant entering any waste stream or otherwise released into the environment (including fugitive emissions); prior to recycling, treatment or disposal; and
  • Reduces the hazards to public health and the environment associated with the release of such substances, pollutants, or contaminants.

Pollution prevention is designed to conserve natural resources, like water and materials used in packaging, and save energy by using more efficient production methods and operations.

It can include, as noted by the USEPA: equipment or technology modifications; process or procedure modifications; reformulation or redesign of products; substitution of raw materials; and improvements in housekeeping, maintenance, training, or inventory control.

As mentioned in Part 1 of this article, pollution prevention has many benefits.

  • It can reduce costs (in operations, production, and waste management) because you’re no longer focused on end-of-pipe mitigation of environmental impacts due to the elimination or reduction of waste generating activities.
  • There is less chance of hazardous waste being introduced into the environment, which means fewer costly clean-up operations.
  • A company can bolster its public image and reputation among consumers due to its “green” pollution prevention policies.
  • Public health can be improved due to less harmful pollutants in the environment.
  • A facility can reduce liabilities and improve worker health and safety as less hazardous materials on site means less need for personal protective equipment and fewer injury-causing accidents that require medical attention.
  • A facility may be able to reduce or eliminate the need for certain environmental permits if it has reduced or eliminated the use of hazardous materials in its manufacturing process or there are no longer materials being released which require monitoring.

It’s clear that although proactive pollution prevention measures can cost money, in the long run these policies can be more cost-effective, and, of course, you’re reducing environmental impact as well as protecting scarce natural resources.

The United States produces millions of tons of various types of air, ground, and water pollution every year… and spends billions to control it.

By embracing pollution prevention, where feasible, with changes in production, operation, and raw materials use, companies can reverse that trend.

The USEPA has long been supportive of efforts by companies across the country that are embracing pollution prevention efforts. Education, of course, is a big part of its mission. The USEPA’s Pollution Prevention or P2 website is a treasure trove of information, statistics, and suggestions for source reduction. Be sure to check out the page on the Toxic Release Inventory Program to find out what other facilities in your and other industries are doing to follow pollution prevention measures and what the results have been.

The agency has also put together grant programs for states which provide specific technical assistance and on site expert advice in the development of source reduction efforts. And there are several voluntary programs that provide guidance in embracing greener product design and manufacturing.

It seems to be working. A study from the nonprofit National Pollution Prevention Roundtable found that from 1990 (when the Pollution Prevention Act started) to 2000, more than 167 billion pounds of pollution was prevented. In the same period, four million gallons of water were saved. And, according to the report (An Ounce of Pollution Prevention is Worth Over 167 Billion Pounds of Cure: A Decade of Pollution Prevention Results 1990 – 2000), from 1998 to 2000 alone, “13 P2 programs with a total average budget of $1.9 million annually reported total cost savings equal to $404 million. This represents average savings equal to 5.4 times the budget allocated to implement the P2 programs responsible for these results.”

Importantly, there has been a “culture” shift among many companies that embrace greener policies and environmental protection.

The USEPA is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Pollution Prevention Act and has a number of activities and programs planned this year, especially during P2 Week (September 19 – 24, 2021). I’d encourage you to review the information and resources on the USEPA’s P2 website to find cost-effective ways you can integrate source reduction in your facility, find informative webinars, review P2 case studies to help develop your own program, and discover many great P2 resources for all types of businesses. And, if you need help with your pollution prevention and sustainability efforts, you can always contact our team at Envision Environmental, Inc.

Get in touch with me, Mark Roman, at 609-208-1885 or via email at markroman@envisionenvironmental.com.

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