"If you make the commitment to do pollution prevention and that commitment is at every level of the company, you can create a healthier, much cleaner environment."
George Makrauer, Amko Plastics
Pollution prevention is often referred to as business planning with environmental benefits. The most common benefits and incentives for establishing a pollution prevention program are presented here. Some of the obstacles that may hinder implementation or program development are also discussed.
Reduced Operating Costs (Economics) Pollution prevention activities usually save a company money in the long term. Many pollution prevention projects have good returns on investment and short payback periods. Money is usually saved in disposal costs, new material costs and improved operating efficiency. Many firms report that the majority of savings comes from the latter.
Improved Worker Safety Reduction of the use of toxins in the workplace is a major aspect of pollution prevention. (However, toxic users who manufacture a toxic substance would not be expected to plan for the reduction in manufacturing of the specific toxic substance as a product.) By reducing or eliminating toxic substance use, the safety of the work environment can be improved and personal protective equipment requirements decreased. Also, reducing the likelihood of leaks, spills and releases can decrease worker, visitor, and contractor exposure. These steps will result in cost savings through preventing the loss of materials and possibly through decreased insurance rates by reducing medical claims and disability leave. Better labor relations can also result from improved worker safety.
Reduced Compliance Costs Undertaking pollution prevention projects can reduce your regulatory exposure and, in some cases, may eliminate the need for permits, manifesting, monitoring and reporting. Keeping up with regulatory requirements and submitting the required reports is an expensive and time consuming process which, if eliminated, saves money.
Increased Productivity Pollution prevention can improve plant productivity through more efficient use of raw materials due to improved processes and operations. Many industrial plants that produce large quantities of wastes may be using old technologies to make their products, or their processes may be poorly controlled and inefficiently operated. Sometimes small improvements can result in increased product yield and better quality.
Increased Environmental Protection Many waste disposal and treatment methods have been shown to be less protective of the environment than previously estimated. These methods may just move environmental contaminants from one medium to another. They may cause future problems that are not yet apparent. Pollution prevention reduces the generation of wastes at the source, or results in less toxic waste, and thus assures improved environmental protection.
Reduced Exposure to Future Liability Costs Reduction of potential long term liability from waste disposal has become an important concern in recent years. Past disposal practices, even though they may have been legal, have often caused environmental damage that has proved to be expense for industrial facilities as well as damaging to their public image. Pollution prevention can help to reduce long term liability by reducing the amount and the hazard of waste generated.
Continuous Improvement Successful implementation of a pollution prevention program can be an integral part of a company's continuous improvement or Total Quality Management program. Reducing wastes and improving efficiency are what both pollution prevention and continuous improvement are all about.
Improved Company Image Society is becoming increasingly aware of the environmental hazards associated with all types of waste. U.S. EPA publishes details of companies' waste and pollution prevention efforts through the Toxic Release Inventory. U.S. EPA also publicly recognizes those companies that make voluntary commitments to pollution prevention. To enhance their public image, companies are implementing and publicizing pollution prevention activities.
Capital Requirements Implementation of many pollution prevention measures often requires capital investment. Such projects may need to be justified on an economic basis.
Specifications Specifications can be both an incentive and an impediment. For instance, government contracts may specify certain materials be used in the manufacture of a product or that virgin materials be used rather than recycled materials. This can lead to the use of materials that are damaging to the environment or the unnecessary use of virgin materials where recycled materials would suffice.
Regulatory Issues It may be necessary to obtain a new or modified permit, or other governmental approval, before implementing a process change or material substitution. This can be time consuming and costly. Companies should contact the appropriate regulatory agency early in the process of making changes to the facility to ensure that all permitting requirements are considered.
Product Quality Issues Companies have great concern for the quality of the products they manufacture. Some pollution prevention projects may change product quality, even when properly implemented, and thus may be regarded with skepticism.
Customers' Acceptance The customer ultimately defines product quality requirements. Anything that affects the quality, or even the perception of its quality, may affect acceptance by the customer.
Immediate Production Concerns Implementation of pollution prevention projects may often require time, money, and personnel, all of which are usually in short supply.
Company Image Concerns Occasionally companies are hesitant to admit that the "old way" may not have been the best way. Once easy-to-implement pollution prevention practices such as improved operations, for example, are underway, companies may realize that they could have been doing it all along but do not want the fact made public because it may make them look bad. However, many companies do not have this attitude.
Available Time/Technical Expertise Some organizations may lack sufficient time or technical expertise to develop and implement pollution prevention practices.
Inertia Whenever a production system is in place and working with some degree of success, there is a tendency to leave well enough alone. The old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," applies.
Although there may be many obstacles to implementing pollution prevention, the benefits can be so great as to warrant working through the obstacles. By properly educating and including all employees, as well as customers and suppliers, about the advantages and stages of a pollution prevention program, successful projects and programs can be achieved.