By Alexandra Dapolito Dunn
Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention
Please join me in celebrating Pollution Prevention Week, September 16-22, 2019! It’s been almost 30 years since Congress passed the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990, which established pollution prevention as a national policy in the United States.
Pollution prevention is any practice that reduces, eliminates, or prevents pollution at its source. Because pollution prevention approaches are applied to the activities that generate pollution, everyone can be a part of the solution. Citizens, communities, and companies have a wide range of options to reduce pollution at its source. Whether we increase recycling or reduce our use or pesticides at home, or reduce societal use of chemicals and resources, there are all kinds of good practices that can help us advance economic growth and increase sustainability at the same time.
By working together, we continue to come up with new approaches to pollution prevention and encourage adoption of those innovations. Between 2011 and 2016, EPA issued $36.9 million in grants to help American businesses identify, develop, and adopt pollution prevention approaches. These efforts, in turn, yielded $1.4 billion in savings to businesses; reduced the use of hazardous materials by 529 million pounds; and saved 25 billion gallons of water, among many other benefits.
One great way to get a sense of how many efforts are underway is to take a look at EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) pollution prevention pages. EPA’s TRI program collects information to track industry progress in reducing waste generation and moving toward safer waste management alternatives. Many facilities provide descriptions of measures they have taken to prevent pollution and reduce the amount of toxic chemicals entering the environment.
EPA regularly celebrates the efforts of businesses, academic institutions, local governments, and non-profits across the county. It is amazing to see the diverse and creative ways pollution prevention is being advanced. For example, last year EPA recognized the University of Minnesota for its efforts to develop a new pollution prevention approach in the automotive repair industry. Researchers offered technical assistance to Minnesota-based auto repair shops to help them achieve low-cost transitions to greener products in their degreasing processes. As a result, auto repair businesses reduced the use of volatile organic compounds and the hazardous air pollutants by thousands of pounds over a two-year period. The new practices also improved air quality for auto repair shop workers.
To take another example, the New England Environmental Finance Center at the University of Southern Maine is working with craft brewers on source reduction opportunities that can increase environmental, economic and social performance and can help the industry become more competitive in a water- and waste-intensive industry. The effort is becoming a model of sustainable operations practices for small breweries.
(Check out other pollution prevention case studies here: https://www.epa.gov/p2/pollution-prevention-case-studies.)
Three decades after passage of the Pollution Prevention Act, it’s clear there is always room to develop new and creative approaches that benefit our economy by protecting the environment. Please take a moment and visit our website to see how you can prevent pollution in your home, car, or garden.
About the author: Alexandra Dapolito Dunn is the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. Prior to that she served as the Regional Administrator for EPA Region 1, and her responsibilities included overseeing the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont and ten tribal nations. Read more.