The Benefits of Pollution Prevention
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans produced about 243 million tons of municipal solid waste in 2009. This is about 4.3 pounds of waste per person each day, or 30 pounds a week, of items such as paper, food scraps, yard trimmings, plastics, metals, and other commonly disposed items.
Recycling rates are up since 2000, decreasing the amount of municipal waste sent to landfills. But what if there was a way to prevent waste so that it never needed to be disposed or recycled in the first place?
Pollution, according to the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable website, is the contamination of air, soil, or water by the discharge of harmful substances. Pollution prevention, or “P2”, is the reduction or elimination of pollution at the source instead of after its use or emission into the environment.
P2 sites, such as P2pays.org, have information for citizens, industry and commercial industries, local government, recycling businesses, and state agencies. For their home, visitors can find P2 strategies such as ways to stop junk mail, donate old eyeglasses, and properly dispose of fire alarms (which contain Americium 241, a radioactive material)and other household hazardous materials. For businesses, visitors can find P2 resources such as electronic waste (“E-waste”) and battery recycling locations as well as hints on recycling/re-using office paper and ink cartridges.
Here in New Mexico, the state Environment Department has worked collaboratively with the IEE Resources Center for the past 12 years, providing businesses, industry, communities and the tribes in New Mexico with the tools necessary to implement successful P2 programs.
Besides being beneficial for the environment, P2 has certain advantages for those who implement it. Businesses that practice P2 can experience significant cost-savings through lower waste disposal costs, lower risk and liability costs, reduced regulatory burden, material conservation, and improved efficiency.
Like any proposed solution, P2 has disadvantages as well. Sometimes, the suggested P2 practices are costly to initiate and their establishment requires time and commitment on the part of the company or entity. At home, pollution prevention must overcome ingrained habits or other obstacles. For example, it may be easier to use plastic cups for guests at the neighborhood barbeque; however, long-term, it is more energy efficient to use washable, reusable cups. The cost of implementing a P2 program or waste management system is something to consider as well. According to lean.org, it is critical to establish an accounting system to allow for better tracking of true costs related to waste disposal, energy use and cost-savings related to P2.
In summary, pollution prevention has its disadvantages, but also reduces waste at the source and provides financial and environmental benefits. For more information and additional resources, please visit the following sites: