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Environmental Public Health

Pollution Prevention


"Pollution prevention" (P2) and "source reduction" mean stopping pollution before it begins. Recycling and proper waste treatment and disposal are not elements of source reduction. Both of these activities are ways of managing wastes that already exist. The goal of P2 and source reduction is to not create the waste in the first place.

Source reduction "is an approach that precedes waste management and addresses how products are manufactured, purchased, and used. . . . [T]echnical options include product reuse, reduced material volume, reduced toxicity, increased product lifetime, and decreased consumption."* By making wise purchase or design choices, any business—a manufacturing plant, printing press, photo lab or shop, dentist, or dry cleaner—can reduce the amount of waste associated with each unit it produces or processes.

An automobile's cooling system is an example of a product design that reduces waste. The system reuses water. A system that only used water and antifreeze in a onetime pass would be wasteful and inefficient. If you take the same concept and apply it to your business, you may be able to find areas in which the reuse of a product or material or the redesign of a machine or system can reduce waste.

How we use and reuse materials can reduce waste. Solvents, inks, or rinse water can often be recaptured, strained or mixed with similar materials, and reused. Adding a drip pan to capture overflow or a hood to capture vapors allows you to reuse materials that would otherwise be wasted.

Many highly toxic products on the market have less hazardous alternatives. You probably have heard of the boiling water and baking soda drain cleaner that is both natural and safer than many commercial drain cleaners. Likewise, there are less toxic alternatives to many inks, solvents, paints, and other products. Using less toxic products may require more time or labor; but you, your workers, and our families will be safer. You may even save money because you might not need to install special storage units, buy special safety equipment, send staff to safety training, purchase permits, or hire a waste handler. You will be able to put more money into your work and less into your wastes.

If you are a manufacturer, you can reduce the volume of wastes going to the landfill by manufacturing products that last longer. Increasing a product's lifetime builds customer goodwill, repeat business, and word-of-mouth advertising. "Source reduction policies . . . encourage a design that allows for repairs and continued use rather than disposal."* By manufacturing replacement parts, you can lengthen a product's lifetime while ensuring yourself a continued source of income.

As you reuse, clean, or remix materials for longer lifetimes, you will decrease the amount you consume. We in the United States often believe that if one pint of solvent is good, then two pints must be better. In fact, the opposite is generally true. If you only need one pint of solvent to do a job, you are wasting your money if you use more. If you change equipment to capture and reuse materials, you will need much less material. To return to the radiator analogy, you need less water if you recirculate it than if you flushed it through once.

Reduced consumption saves you money while protecting the resources and the environment. It does not have to mean "go without"; it really means "save money by using it better." Decreasing consumption helps ensure that needed resources will exist for a long time.

Modifying equipment and systems, reusing products, reducing material volumes, using products having reduced toxicity, increasing the lifetime of your products, and decreasing consumption are steps in source reduction. These steps prevent pollution, save money, and provide everyone with a healthier environment. It is cheaper not to create waste than it is to pay for disposal or to clean up a mess. Think source reduction and think P2 as you plan your business's next project, product, or purchase order. You'll be glad you did.

* EPA. (1989). Decision-Makers Guide to Solid Waste Management. EPA/530-SW-89-072. Washington, DC.


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