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Pollution Prevention for Businesses

Minimum Measure: Public Education and Outreach on Stormwater Impacts

Subcategory: Education for Businesses

Photo Description:  Businesses can accomplish pollution prevention by providing receptacles for recycling


Activities that reduce or eliminate chemical contaminants at their source are called pollution prevention, or P2. Such activities include the efficient use of raw materials, water, and energy, the substitution of less harmful substances for more harmful ones, and the elimination of toxic substances from the production process. Other methods include source reduction, reuse and recycling, and energy recovery. Of these, source reduction is preferred because it slows the production of waste.


Pollution prevention plans take many forms, but most apply to almost every community, commercial and industrial sector. Municipalities should help business owners establish and apply a pollution prevention program.


Businesses should start by evaluating their most frequently-used chemicals and toxics. Their pollution prevention plans must then address source reduction, reuse and recycling, and energy consumption. While plans must be customized to each situation and community, most of these methods can be applied anywhere.

Source Reduction

  • Incorporating environmental considerations into the design of products, buildings, and manufacturing systems increases resource efficiency.
  • Rethinking daily operations and maintenance activities can help industries eliminate wasteful management practices that increase costs and cause pollution.
  • Reducing the amount of water used in cleaning or manufacturing can reduce the amount of wastewater produced.
  • Re-engineering and re-designing a facility or an operation allows it to take advantage of newer, cleaner and more efficient equipment.
  • Buying the correct amount of raw materials will decrease the amount of excess materials discarded (for example, paints that have a specified shelf life).
  • When possible, businesses should cover pollutants stored outdoors to limit their contact with rain (see Conditional No Exposure Exclusion for more details)


  • Alternative materials for cleaning, coating, lubrication, and other production processes can provide similar results while preventing costly hazardous waste generation, air emissions, and worker health risks.
  • Using "green" products decreases the use of harmful or toxic chemicals. Green products are also frequently more energy efficient than other products.
  • One company's waste may be another company's raw materials. Finding markets for waste can reduce solid waste, lessen consumption of virgin resources, increase income for sellers, and provide an economical resource supply for the buyers.
  • Recycling paper products, glass, and paper saves money and reduces waste.

Energy Recovery

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

Local governments can help community businesses apply these methods by maintaining a database of pollution prevention information and publicizing this information. They can also prepare and distribute a Pollution Prevention Week Planning Guide to help teach these techniques to community businesses.


Adopting a pollution prevention plan can yield environmental and economic benefits in your community. Benefits include cleaner air and water, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, less toxic waste, less garbage going to landfills, and better stewardship of natural resources. A pollution prevention plan can also reduce workplace exposure to hazardous materials, which can affect worker's health and productivity.

Attending or planning a pollution prevention conference, or becoming a member of a P2 organization, can spur networking and information sharing. Businesses frequently experience an increase in publicity, recognition and patronage after they join a pollution prevention organization. Pollution prevention's economic benefits include greater business efficiency, increased competitiveness, and reduced costs for regulatory monitoring and compliance. By reducing waste, pollution prevention can also reduce or eliminate long term liability, clean-up, storage, and disposal costs. Finally, by preventing pollution, there is a greater likelihood that a company will be in compliance with local, state, and federal statutes.


To make pollution prevention effective, municipalities must provide clear guidance to business owners. Although a new pollution prevention program may require initial investments of time and money, keep in mind that preventing pollution is more cost-effective than remediation. By explaining both the business and community benefits of pollution plans, you encourage your community's businesses to adopt such plans.


A pollution prevention plan can benefit your community both economically and environmentally. Businesses applying pollution prevention can reduce their pollution discharges and lower their operational costs. For example, vehicle-washing can produce chemical, dirt and grease-contaminated runoff that flows untreated into waterways. A Seattle tour company installed a collection system that recycles approximately 92 percent of the water used for bus washing. The company reduced its wastewater discharges, and as a result cut its water bill by approximately $1,000/month during the peak season. In another case, a container company that installed a closed-loop water recycling system reduced water consumption in its freight container washing operations by approximately two-thirds. (National Pollution Prevention Roundtable, 2000).


Costs to implement a pollution prevention program vary according to the types of business and the extent of the pollution plan. A new program may face significant costs in education training and infrastructure investments.

Santa Clara County, California, has implemented a pollution prevention program that provides technical assistance in workshops, periodic newsletters, factsheets and a Green Business Program. The program has three full-time employees and an annual budget of approximately $300,000.

The City of Boulder, Colorado, has implemented a voluntary, non-regulatory program for Boulder County businesses. Their Partners for a Clean Environment (PACE) provides free pollution prevention education, technical assistance, and recognition. Staff members identify pollution prevention needs, compile information, and motivate businesses to reduce emissions and waste. PACE estimates that in 1999, participating businesses reduced air emissions by 25 tons per year. Hazardous wastes fell by approximately 3,900 gallons. Wastewater discharges dropped by 35,000 gallons a year, and solid wastes were reduced by more than 630 tons. The PACE program's annual budget is $58,000.


DiPeso, J. 1998. Firms finding out that preventing pollution pays off. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 8, 2005.

National Pollution Prevention Roundtable. No date. National Pollution Prevention Roundtable [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 8, 2005.

Nover, M. 2000. Summary of Local Government P2 Funding Methods. Pollution Prevention Program, Portland, OR.

Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource Center. 1999. What is P2? [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 8, 2005.

USEPA. 2000. About P2. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 8, 2005.

USEPA. 2000. Businesses for the Bay. [ (PDF) Exit EPA Site]. Accessed September 8, 2005.


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Last updated on July 23, 2012