Pollution Prevention

Source Reduction/Waste Minimization

"The world we have created today as a result of our thinking thus far has problems which cannot be solved by thinking the way we thought when we created them."

 -- Einstein

Pollution prevention does make good sense and now it is the law in Texas.

Pollution prevention is an essential element of the State’s immediate and long-term strategy to manage hazardous waste and reduce pollutant releases to the environment. Land disposal will continue to be a disposal option but due to stricter regulation, its role is diminishing at both the state and national level and, at least in the near term, capacity of landfills is limited. EPA’s program of land disposal restriction, established in response to the 1984 Hazardous Solid Waste Authorization (HSWA) amendments to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), will ban the disposal of any untreated hazardous waste. Treatment technologies offer another option, but treatment can be expensive, so generators must explore other options.

There are many reasons to reduce both the amount of waste generated and the amount of toxic releases to the environment. The following will discuss five important incentives:

  1. Economic Incentives - It pays to reduce waste.

  2. Regulatory incentives - It’s the law.

  3. Liability incentives - It’s our responsibility.

  4. Public benefit - It’s the right thing to do.

  5. Human Health and the Environment - It’s our future.

Economic Incentives

The biggest incentive for TCU to reduce our hazardous wastes is financial. Pollution costs, pollution prevention pays. As Tom Peters says in his video Lean, Clean and Green "the companies that are the cleanest first will enjoy a massive, once-in-a-century, competitive advantage."

According to the TCEQ, the cost of managing waste is escalating at a rate of 20 to 30 percent per year. Landfill closures are increasing the price of disposal. Some wastes once land filled must now be incinerated. Currently the cost for incinerating a drum of hazardous waste can run between 300 to 2000 dollars depending on the characteristics of the waste.

TCU must look beyond the up-front costs of pollution prevention and examine the whole spectrum of cost associated with pollution, including disposal, potential liability, and regulatory costs. Other benefits must also be considered that in an indirect way affect the company financially, such as the immeasurable benefits of positive public perception.

Regulatory Incentives

Waste minimization is a policy specifically mandated by the U.S. Congress in the 1984 Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). This mandate and other RCRA provisions have led to unprecedented increases in the cost of waste management. As a result, generators of hazardous waste will be forced to examine other waste management alternatives, including waste reduction.

To ensure that companies are exploring possible source reduction actions, the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 was signed. This federal act requires facilities that report under the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) provisions of Section 313 of SARA Title III to provide information on pollution prevention and recycling activities with each annual filing.

A similar action was taken by the 72nd Legislature of Texas through Senate Bill 1099, which requires hazardous waste and TRI facilities to have in place a source reduction and waste minimization plan.

Liability Incentives

According to RCRA, a hazardous waste generator is responsible for its waste from "cradle to grave." In other words, once a business generates a hazardous waste it’s legally responsible for that waste forever. In addition, federal and state laws have set the precedent that generators of hazardous waste are at least partially responsible for the cleanup of wastes that have leaked from disposal sites containing their waste. This financial responsibility can cost hazardous waste generators substantial sums of money.

Generators using off-site treatment, storage, or disposal, face financial liability when the facility operators mismanage waste and when facility owners improperly design the disposal facility itself. Even careful evaluation of facility management cannot reduce these risks to zero. A generator risks incurring liability when the treatment, storage, or disposal facility (TSDF) owner does not pay for actions to stop migration of wastes in soil and ground water. In these situations, generators can be held liable under common law for absolute, strict, joint, and several liability. In addition, the imminent and substantial endangerment provisions in sections 106 and 107 of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Comprehensive and Liability Act (CERCLA) say that a generator or generators can be held financially responsible for the entire cleanup or restoration of a facility.

The "cradle to grave" responsibility translates into what many insurance experts now call the "liability crisis." Liability insurance premiums have increased by 50 to 300 percent in the last several years due to the increase in law suits against hazardous waste generators involved in accidental spills and leaking disposal sites.

Increases in insurance costs or an inability to obtain insurance will result in higher treatment and disposal cost or the loss of available treatment or disposal capacity. One possible way to reduce this expense is to reduce the cause of the liability, which is the generation of hazardous waste. Reducing the hazardous waste TCU generates will reduce its long-term liability.

Public Benefit

The public today is more informed about environmental issues, particularly in a university setting. They are aware of the potential effects that hazardous waste and the release of pollutant can have on human health and the environment. Therefore, by being environmentally aware and working towards waste reduction we can improve our working relationship with the public - our community and ultimate customers.

Human and Health Benefit

The most important reason to promote pollution prevention is to protect our health and the environment that we all must live in. When we improve and protect the environment we are ultimately protecting ourselves, and future generations.

What is a pollutant or contaminant?

A pollutant or contaminant includes anything that could cause harm to an organism or its offspring through exposure to a release into the environment. An example is a substance entering humans through the food chain (ie. pesticide residue ingested by cattle and later transferred to humans). Another example is the disposal of toxic substances into a drainage system (i.e. paint thinner poured down a septic tank or wastewater sewer system).

The Waste Reduction Policy Act of 1991 is mainly concerned with pollutants or contaminants that are defined as "hazardous wastes." Hazardous wastes are a subset of solid wastes. Basically, a solid waste is a liquid, solid, semisolid, or gaseous material that is either no longer wanted or no longer fit for its intended purpose.

Federal (40 CFR Part 261) and Texas (TAC, Chapter 335) regulations define a solid waste as hazardous if it has one or more of the following characteristics.

Ignitability - ignitable hazardous wastes can burn under certain conditions.

Corrosivity - corrosive hazardous wastes include those that are acidic and those which can rapidly corrode steel.

Reactivity - reactive hazardous wastes react violently under normal conditions, such as coming in contact with water.

Toxicity - toxic hazardous wastes are harmful or deadly when swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

Solid waste is also considered hazardous if it is listed on one of the three lists developed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Nonspecific Source Wastes (40 CFR 261.31) - general wastes, commonly produced by manufacturing and industrial processes (i.e. spent halogenated solvents, dioxin waste).

Specific Source Wastes (40 CFR 261.32) - wastes from specifically identified industries such as wood processing, petroleum refining, and organic chemical manufacturing (i.e. sludges, still bottoms, wastewater).

Commercial Chemical Products (40 CFR 261.33 (e) and (f) - specific commercial chemical products, or manufacturing intermediates (i.e. chloroform, creosote, sulfuric acid, DDT).

While many wastes have dangerous properties, not all are defined as hazardous. For instance, radioactive and infectious wastes are considered dangerous, but they are not defined as hazardous waste and therefore, are regulated differently than hazardous wastes.

What can be done to prevent pollution?

Unfortunately, we cannot immediately make pollutants and contaminants go away. During the manufacture of many products that we use every day, pollutants are produced. Examples from large industries include automobile products (gasoline), plastic packaging, building materials, insecticides, and medicines. Small generators also produce pollutants when they provide photo processing services, educational services, dry cleaning services and more.

So, what can be done? The best solution is to generate and release as little as possible, reduce the volume or the hazardous properties, and dispose of the remaining waste safely.

Current Texas state law (Solid Waste Disposal Act) encourages an "order of preference" for methods of treating, storing, and disposing of waste. That order is:

  1. source reduction;

  2. reuse and/or recycling of waste;

  3. treatment to destroy hazardous characteristics;

  4. treatment to reduce hazard characteristics;

  5. underground injection;

  6. land disposal.

The Waste Reduction Policy Act focuses on the top categories of the Texas preferred waste management techniques-including source reduction, reuse or recycling and some limited forms of treatment.

The preferred method in pollution prevention is called source reduction. In general, source reduction includes any activity that reduces or eliminates the generation of hazardous waste at the source. Source reduction can include input material changes, technology changes, and implementation of good operating practices to eliminate hazardous waste at its source.

Next in the order of preference for pollution prevention includes practices known as waste minimization. Waste minimization refers to practices that reduce the environmental or health hazards associated with hazardous wastes, pollutants, or contaminants. Examples may include reuse, recycling, neutralization and detoxification.

The goal of the source reduction/waste minimization requirements is to promote companies to assess their pollutants and contaminants so that they can organize the most successful pollution prevention effort possible. By actively participating in this effort, TCU can help in obtaining the specific pollution prevention goals of the State. The specific goals of the CLEAN TEXAS 2000 initiative are to reduce the generation of hazardous waste and toxic releases by 50% or more by the year 2000 (from 1987 levels). to reduce the amounts of wastes going into landfills by 50% by the year 2000, and to educate all Texans about how they can help preserve and protect the air, land, and waters of the state.

For more information about TCU's Pollution Prevention Plan and activities, or to volunteer your time in a pollution prevention subcommittee or workgroup, call the Risk Management Department (x7220).

 

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