Pollution Prevention reduces the amount of any hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminants entering any waste stream or otherwise released into the environment (including fugitive emissions) prior to recycling, treatment, or disposal.
The 1970s and 1980s saw the beginning of clean technology thinking that focused on reducing pollution at the source. Pollution Prevention became defined as source reduction or any practice which prevented hazardous emissions before they were created.
This change in thinking resulted in much resistance from engineers, government officials and others vested in pollution control and risk assessment that advocated business as usual.
The major obstacles to increased waste reduction are institutional and behavioral rather than technical.
It was found that industries had no idea how much waste they produced.
Case Study: Cutting Chemical Waste Study in the U.S. (1998)
A review of 29 chemical companies in the USA in 1986 by the research group, INFORM, showed that:
- Fewer than 1% of companies had any waste reduction initiatives at all;
- Any efforts to reduce waste was caused by regulations; and
- Not one company had done a waste audit and not one company knew how much waste they produced in total.
The researchers found significant potential for waste reduction and in some cases up to 80% of emissions could be avoided. Many solutions did not require sophisticated techniques.
The researchers recommended that:
- Political action was necessary;
- The government needed to close cheap disposal options;
- The companies needed to accept increased liability;
- The public needed more access to information about emissions from each company; and
- Companies needed to set timelines and goals to reduce their waste generation.
The U.S. federal government implemented the Community Right to Know Act in 1986 after communities demanded more access to information about company emissions. This Act enacted the Toxic Release Inventory, allowing communities access to how much pollution was emitted by specific facilities. Many states have Pollution Prevention Offices to help companies implement pollution prevention technologies and techniques.
Some states have moved from pollution prevention to a focused approach to reduce and eliminate the use of toxic chemicals.
How Companies Can Eliminate their Use of Toxic Chemicals. Download fact sheet (.pdf)