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Pollution prevention, as defined under the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990, means source reduction and other practices that reduce or eliminate the creation of pollutants through (1) increased efficiency in the use of raw materials, energy, water, or other resources or (2) protection of natural resources by conservation. Under the Pollution Prevention Act, recycling, energy recovery, treatment, and disposal are not included within the definition of pollution prevention. Practices commonly described as in-process recycling may qualify as pollution prevention. Recycling conducted in an environmentally sound manner shares many of the advantages of pollution prevention—it can reduce the need for treatment or disposal and conserve energy and resources.

Pollution prevention (or source reduction) is an agency's first priority in the environmental management hierarchy for reducing risks to human health and the environment from pollution. This hierarchy includes (1) prevention, (2) recycling, (3) treatment, and (4) disposal or release. The second priority in the hierarchy is the responsible recycling of any waste that cannot be reduced at the source. Waste that cannot feasibly be recycled should be treated according to environmental standards that are designed to reduce both the hazard and volume of waste streams. Finally, any residues remaining from the treatment of waste should be disposed of safely to minimize their potential release into the environment. Pollution and related terms are defined in Table 3.1.1.

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