Chapter 1

Chapter 1 – Why Pollution Prevention is Good Business

Every company understands the benefits that come from reducing waste, which include lowering costs and increasing profits. One way to achieve these is through pollution prevention, defined in the 1990 Minnesota Toxic Pollution Prevention Act as “the elimination or reduction, at the source, of the use, generation, or release of toxic pollutants, hazardous substances, and hazardous wastes.” The key words in this definition are at the source. The intent of the Act is that true pollution prevention occurs only “at the source” of any process or operation that uses or generates a hazardous material.

To make clear the distinction between pollution prevention and pollution control/waste management, one can ask:

“Does this activity reduce the use, generation, or release of hazardous materials or toxic chemicals at their source?”


“Does this activity manage waste after it is created?”


Pollution prevention is preferred over waste management because preventing the generation of regulated chemicals can be much less costly in the long run than managing them as waste or pollution. While there are waste management techniques that effectively reduce generation or release of one waste type, they nearly always result in a generation or release of another type. For instance, contaminants removed from wastewater prior to discharge generally end up as sludge needing to be landfilled. The discharge water is cleaner, but the hazard has been transferred from water to land. To truly reduce the amount of waste to be managed, and to avoid shifting hazards between air, water, and land, companies must implement pollution prevention techniques. An effective first step to developing a pollution prevention plan is to clearly identify your options.

Pollution Prevention Saves Money
A Minnesota floor cleaning equipment manufacturer successfully reduced their discharge of wastewater to the sanitary sewer by diverting non-contact cooling water to the washer in their paint system. This change resulted in savings of $55,800 in reduced sewer and water fees.

Pollution prevention planning is not a standalone process. It’s an activity that complements existing efforts to improve productivity. Companies can avoid costs by analyzing current manufacturing processes to identify alternatives that reduce or eliminate the use of toxic chemicals and generate fewer hazardous wastes. Companies can also escape regulatory compliance requirements after eliminating those chemicals and wastes.

The pollution prevention planning process is a way for businesses to lessen their impact on the environment. The process shows businesses how raw materials can be used more efficiently and how a process can be changed to make a product or service more productive. For this reason, pollution prevention is an integral business activity. Though the environmental manager may coordinate pollution prevention planning, every employee has a responsibility to prevent waste.

Integrating Pollution Prevention with Business Planning

Most companies are experienced with developing long-term business plans to ensure their success and future growth.

A pollution prevention plan should be integrated into a business plan. The pollution prevention plan focuses on developing and then profiting from the company’s good environmental performance. By incorporating pollution prevention with business planning efforts and efficient resource management, employees can easily see why pollution prevention is good business. When a company eliminates a hazard or a waste, it also eliminates the associated costs and risks. Pollution prevention allows companies to promote “green” products and market their environmentally friendly practices. They will also minimize the costs of public and regulatory burden.

Efficiency and Pollution Prevention

Level 1: Prevention

The highest level of efficiency a business can reach is to generate zero waste. You may think this is an unattainable goal. However, there are companies that are discharging process water cleaner than they receive it. If a company accepts wastes and emissions as inevitable by-products of its operations, the company will continue to face rising costs for waste management and will continue to be at risk for problems such as permit violations. Waste should not be seen as a problem but as an opportunity.

Level 2: Reuse

A company should look for ways to reduce waste as much as possible, with zero waste being the ultimate goal. Changing procedures, processes, or the way products are manufactured are a few options for waste prevention.

Level 3: Recycling

The next level of efficiency is recycling. Recycling can either be accomplished within the same manufacturing process by methods such as distilling a spent solvent for reuse or it may involve sending waste materials off-site for recycling. An often overlooked part of recycling process is the need to close the recycling loop by emphasizing the use of recycled materials as a replacement for virgin materials wherever feasible.

Level 4: Treatment

Treatment of wastes can include incineration, neutralization, precipitation, or other chemical or physical methods to prepare a waste for release to the environment by making it less hazardous.

Level 5: Disposal

The lowest level of efficiency is the release of a pollutant or waste. This includes incineration, precipitation, landfilling, air emissions, wastewater discharges, and treatment. In practical terms, releasing waste means paying to buy a resource, and then paying again to get rid of it.

Quality and Pollution Prevention

Quality improvement is another important business factor that should be considered in conjunction with resource management. Virtually all management and quality professionals agree that optimizing resources and reducing wastes and pollution leads directly to improved product quality. Therefore, any pollution prevention planning and implementation should be integrated in a company’s quality program.

As in pollution prevention, all quality schemes are cyclical. These cycles involve planning, implementing, evaluating, and innovating. These four activities may have different names in your company, but they are the essence of improving quality and preventing pollution. Effective quality programs are integrated across all company departments just as pollution prevention planning should be.

Environmental Management Systems, ISO 14001 and Pollution Prevention Planning

Many businesses that have benefited from Environmental Management Systems (EMSs) are exploring ISO 14001 registration for their facilities. Like other EMSs, ISO 14001 is a series of specifications that guide organizations to improved environmental performance and compliance. ISO 14001 stands out because of its internationally recognized standards for the creation of a management structure and environmental policy. Although ISO 14001 registration does not ensure environmental compliance, it does certify that the organization has a working management system in place that promotes proper environmental performance and compliance.

Pollution prevention planning is related to ISO 14001 registration in that both have the same goal of improving environmental performance. Although successful pollution prevention planning and implementation requires steps that go beyond those required for ISO 14001 registration, there are similarities. The first step is the self-assessment, where areas of concern are identified and solutions are proposed. Then, the proposed solutions are evaluated for feasibility and those which are chosen are implemented. Finally, the cycle completes when solutions are evaluated again for their effectiveness and new ideas are proposed for implementation where needed. The ISO process documents waste which is an opportunity for pollution prevention.