7: Pollution Prevention
We can't make the problems caused by the waste we produce go away just by burying it in landfills. Reducing the problems our waste causes involves reducing how much waste we generate, and recycling the wastes we produce. Source reduction and recycling can reduce the amount of waste filling limited and expensive landfill space. EPA's recycling and source reduction efforts focus on wastes in three areas: municipal solid wastes, industrial hazardous wastes, and household wastes.
Municipal Solid Wastes
Municipal solid waste is generated in every place we live, work, or play - hospitals, houses, schools, businesses, football stadiums, and more. The garbage in municipal landfills consists of yard waste like grass clippings and tree branches, paper and cardboard, plastics, metals, glass, food, and other wastes. In 1990 Americans recycled or composted about 17 percent of the municipal waste they generated, and that figure is even higher today. But even though we recycled more, we also threw more away. That's why it is important to recycle, compost, reduce the amount of packaging used in the products we buy, and make products that last longer. Waste we avoid producing or that is reused is waste we don't have to dispose of yet. Important types of waste prevention include composting, recycling, source reduction, and waste-to-energy incineration.
Industrial Hazardous Waste
Why should industries reduce waste? The biggest incentive for industries to reduce the amount of waste they produce is that disposing of hazardous wastes is getting more and more expensive. When companies produce less waste, their disposal costs are lower. Companies may also profit from selling or saving recovered materials. Industries can reduce the amount of waste they produce in many ways: manufacturing process changes, source separation, recycling, raw material substitution, and product substitution.
Household Hazardous Waste
Some work around the home may require products that contain hazardous components. These commonly used products include certain paints, cleaners, stains and varnishes, car batteries, motor oil, and pesticides. When disposed of, these products become household hazardous waste.
Americans generate 1.6 million tons of household hazardous waste a year. Household hazardous waste is sometimes disposed of improperly when it is poured down the drain, onto the ground, or into storm sewers, or by being put in the trash. Some household hazardous waste can injure sanitation workers, contaminate wastewater treatment systems, or leak out of landfills into groundwater.
One way to reduce problems from household hazardous waste is to use nonhazardous or less hazardous compounds. People can do this by learning about alternative products that are available and choosing those that are less toxic. If you must use products with hazardous components, use only the amount you need. Leftover products can be shared with neighbors; donated to a business, charity, or government agency; or given to a household hazardous waste collection program.
Recycling is an economical and environmentally sound way to handle some types of household hazardous waste, such as used car batteries and motor oil. Auto parts stores and service stations often accept used car batteries and used oil for recycling.
Because household hazardous waste can be dangerous, you should always use, store, and dispose of materials containing hazardous waste safely. To prevent accidents, follow disposal instructions on the label and dispose of these products through a local collection program, if possible. More than 3,000 collection programs for household hazardous waste currently operate in the United States.