Protecting Public Health and the Environment.

How Your Business Can Prevent Pollution

Pollution Prevention Methods


Products, buildings and homes, and manufacturing systems can be made resource-efficient by incorporating environmental considerations into their design.

Process Changes or Elimination

Rethinking processes can create ways to reduce production waste, cutting both pollution and costs.  Processes can also be re-evaluated to determine if they are necessary to daily operations or can occur less frequently. For example:

  • Can parts be cleaned prior to using solvents?
  • Can machinery be adjusted to more efficiently utilize materials?
  • Would no or fewer hard copies of a report, email, etc. be adequate?
  • Can documents be edited on the computer rather than printing a hard copy?
  • Does the oil need to be changed in all pieces of equipment at the same time even if it may be unnecessary?
  • Is it necessary to clean according to the current frequency or can the frequency of general facility cleaning be reduced?
  • Can small quantities of leftover paints of different colors be mixed and used for painting new surfaces?

Materials Substitution

Alternative materials for cleaning, coating, lubrication, and other processes can prevent costly hazardous waste generation, air emissions, and worker health risks. Before switching products consider the following:

  • Will the substitute work as well?
  • Will the substitute generate a different type of waste stream or release?
  • Will the substitute require purchasing additional equipment?
  • When looking for alternative products, coordinate through your purchasing department and develop policies that favor less toxic products when available.
  • Train staff on policies.
  • Remember that affordable does not necessarily mean less expensive.  Affordable can sometimes mean a higher initial price; consider the entire life cycle of the product.

Materials Reuse

Find another way to reuse materials on-site. For example:

  • Distill used solvents.
  • Capture heat from discharge water or gases to be reused in another part of the manufacturing process.
  • Reuse cardboard boxes.
  • Reuse spent process water for pre-rinsing or apply non-hazardous water to land for irrigation (Note: Reuse permit is required.)
  • Sustitute less hazardous chemicals for processes and cleaning to minimize contaminants in wastewater.
  • If materials cannot be reused on-site, look for off-site recycling opportunities or waste exchanges.

Resource Efficiency

Using energy, water, and other production inputs more efficiently helps keep air and water clean, reduces emissions of greenhouse gases, cuts operating costs, and improves productivity.

  • Use fluorescent light bulbs and motion sensors or timers.
  • Install low-flow fixtures on showers and sinks.
  • Purchase energy-efficient equipment; look for the ENERGY STAR logo.
  • Power down equipment when not in use.
  • Use power strips to prevent power loss when equipment is not in use.
  • Turn down water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit and insulate.
  • Adjust the heat and air conditioner down at night and during weekends and holidays.
  • Use vehicle fleets efficiently by driving the speed limit, checking the tire pressure regularly, mapping out trips, and turning off the engine when parked.
  • Clean with a mop, broom, or vacuum instead of hosing down floors, walkways, and parking areas to conserve water and minimize contaminants in wastewater.

Improved Work Practices, Housekeeping, and Inventory Control

Rethinking day-to-day operations and maintenance activities can help root out wasteful practices that drive up costs and cause pollution.  Housekeeping and inventory controls are some of the easiest hazardous waste reduction alternatives to implement, as well as the least expensive.  Consider the following questions:

  • Do you have designated areas where waste is accumulated?
    • Keep storage and accumulation areas separate.
    • When not using materials, return them to the storage area.
    • Do not discard solvent-laden rags used to clean parts with rags used for other purposes.
    • Do not throw out ordinary trash in hazardous containers.
    • Do not mix absorbents used to collect oil spills and leaks with regular oil waste.
    • Do not accumulate used oils in empty solvent or pesticide containers.
  • Do you keep different wastes segregated? Segregation of different waste streams can lead to substantial cost savings and increased opportunities for recycling or reuse.  Be sure to:
    • Label all materials to prevent mixing.
    • Store materials separately.
    • Store chemicals and wastes away from drains. Use secondary containment measures around chemical and waste containers.
    • Look at all departments for segregation opportunities.
  • Do you completely use your hazardous materials before discarding?
    • Do you order more material than you can use?
    • Are you currently sorting materials that you do not use?
    • Do you have a spill prevention and cleanup plan?
  • Do you order more material that you can use?
    • Are materials expiring before being used?
    • Do not buy in bulk if the materials cannot be used up before expiring.
    • Track the amount of materials used.
    • Practice first-in, first-out.
  • Are you currently storing materials that you do not use?
    • Inspect all storage areas for materials present but no longer in use.
    • Look for waste exchanges or other departments that might be able to use them.
    • Do you have a spill prevention and cleanup plan?

How to Get Started

When a business decides to take on a pollution prevention program, the following steps can help the program succeed:

  • Get support of top management in creating a P2 policy.
  • Develop a program by designating a coordinator, writing a plan, and involving employees.
  • Assess processes that generate waste or pollutants by touring the facility and collecting background information, such as energy, water, hazardous waste, or purchasing information.
  • Identify opportunities.
    • Eliminate unnecessary processes that generate waste.
    • Identify in-process recycling opportunities such as reusing spent rinse water within the same process.
    • Substitute a nontoxic or less-toxic material for a toxic material.
    • Purchase materials made of recycled material, materials that can be reused or recycled, and only what is needed.
    • Segregate different waste streams to increase reuse and recycling opportunities.
    • Identify energy and water conservation opportunities.
  • Rank opportunities by identifying benefits and evaluating technical and economic feasibility.
  • Implement projects.
  • Evaluate projects and document results.
  • Maintain the program by encouraging employee input and looking for new opportunities.