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The Pollution Prevention Act Turns 20

2010 September 20

It’s not only P2 Week, but the 20th anniversary celebration of the Pollution Prevention Act. I hate to say it, but I’ve been in the P2 business long enough to remember when the law was created (I even had a bit of role in helping create it…but that’s another story). I remember the endless discussions on definitions, the role of P2 in regulations, the importance of P2 accounting, and even debates on whether it should be called “pollution prevention” at all.

Back in the day, P2 was an idea that received a lot of attention and a lot of discussion, but there wasn’t a heck of a lot of activity on the ground that one could point to and say “Here’s P2 in action!” In fact, when I began my environmental career by studying P2 in the chemical industry, we were hard-pressed to come up with actual examples.

It’s a sign of the success of the P2 Act and P2 programs around the country that the situation has totally reversed. P2 may not be the endless gab-fest it was two decades ago, but source reduction activities are happening all over the place, and really having an impact.

The generation of hazardous wastes, TRI wastes, and priority chemical wastes have all decreased, even as the economy has grown. Compliance and enforcement activities have driven P2 solutions, and so has EPA’s P2 grants to states. Programs like Energy Star, Design for the Environment and EPEAT increasingly find themselves using “billions” rather than “millions” to describe their impact on waste streams and cost savings.

With all that’s been accomplished, though, I can’t help feeling that we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface. If companies, communities and consumers make a concerted effort at eliminating wastes at the source, then perhaps the theme of P2 Week in 2020 can be the arrival of the zero-waste society, one where greenhouse gas emissions, toxic exposures in the home and workplace, waste disposal in landfills and underground wells, and nutrient dumping in our nation’s waters are all a rapidly fading memory.

Let’s hope so.

About the author: David Sarokin has worked on pollution prevention since the 1980’s, and is the author of “Cutting Chemical Wastes,” a study of P2 in the chemical industry. He currently resides in a cube in the Pollution Prevention Division at EPA, wishing he were outside.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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5 Responses leave one →
  1. R MacKenzie permalink
    September 21, 2010

    It’s great to see some headway…but as you said, there’s still a long way to go. Businesses seem to be the biggest polluters…I had a small operation, but one of the ‘feel good’ things about moving my Arch Support Business online was the fact that it no longer makes nearly the environmental footprint it used to!

  2. Veronica G. permalink
    September 24, 2010

    It’s amazing to hear that programs designed to help pollution are still in effect and very much active. Although the hopes of establishing a zero-waste society are greatly wanted, I believe it will still take a vast amount of time to actually come close to even taking a step into that direction. The good thing is that we still have programs that are designed to make people aware of the status of our society and the pollution each person contributes to this world. If we stay on this track and encourage many others to be aware of their actions towards this world, we may be able to cut down on the time it takes to actually establish a world where pollution and waste are a thing of the past.

  3. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    September 26, 2010

    The Pollution Act and the regulations that have come from it and the programs created to meet its requirements have done a great deal to improve public health over the past 20 years. There is still along way to go yet, but alot of positive change has taken place. One thing that needs serious attention paid to it is nitrate contamination of drinking water wells in the San Joaquin Valley and how and how long to clean that up. We also have a problem in California with wealthy Texas based oil companies trying to overturn California’s landmark greenhouse gas emissions regulations at the ballot box on November 2ed because these regulations would reduce some the already huge profits of the oil companies. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  4. Tony Montana permalink
    October 14, 2010

    This was a very interesting read! Lots of opinion and very
    good research to be shared! Good feedback from the online
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  5. Diego Massarotte permalink
    October 27, 2010

    This is a subject that is very much on the agenda in Brazil. However, our biggest concern is the lack of investment in this sector.

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