The PPA (§6602[b], 42 USC §1310[b]) establishes a hierarchy of pollution control methods. The fundamental idea behind the hierarchy is to prevent pollution before it occurs. Pollution which cannot be avoided should be reduced. In turn, that which cannot be reduced should be recycled, then treated. Only after all those methods have been applied should pollution be released into the environment through disposal. This hierarchy is stated as the central policy of the act as follows:
pollution should be prevented or reduced at the source whenever feasible; pollution that cannot be prevented should be recycled in an environmentally safe manner whenever feasible; pollution that cannot be prevented or recycled should be treated in an environmentally safe manner whenever feasible; and disposal or other release into the environment should be employed only as a last resort and should be conducted in an environmentally safe manner (PPA §6602 [b], 42 USC §13101 [b]).
The hierarchy reflects a preference to eliminate pollution before it occurs, thereby preventing it from crossing into various media, or even jurisdictions, where its more difficult to trace, recapture, and regulate.
The PPA (§6607, 42 USC §13106) requires certain facilities to complete a toxic chemical source reduction and recycling report.38 Under the PPA, each owner or operator of a facility which must file an annual toxic chemical release form under section 313 of the SARA of 1986 must also include a source reduction and recycling report for the prior calendar year. The report includes the following sections:
1. The quantity of each chemical entering the waste-stream, or otherwise released into the environment, prior to recycling, treatment, or disposal, and the percentage change from the previous year
2. The amount of the chemical from the facility which is recycled during the calendar year, the recycling process used, and the percentage change from the previous year.
3. The source reduction practices used with respect to that chemical, reported in accordance with the following categories:
a. Equipment, technology, process, or procedure modifications b. Reformulation or redesign of products
38. The EPA has also called for pollution prevention plans in storm water permits under the CWA. See U.S. EPA. Proposed rule, national pollutant discharge elimination system general permits and reporting requirements for storm water discharges associated with industrial activity. Federal Register 56, (1991):4094 (proposed 16 August 1991). The EPA has requested comments on the use of incentives under the RCRA to reduce or eliminate the generation of hazardous waste. See U.S. EPA. Waste minimization incentives: Notice and request for comment on desirable and feasible incentive to reduce or eliminate the generation of hazardous waste. Federal Register 55, (1990):40881.
c. Substitution of raw materials d. Improvement in management, training, inventory control, materials handling, or other general operational phases of industrial facilities
4. The amount expected to be reported under sections 1 and 2 for the two calendar years immediately following the calendar year for which the report is being filed
5. A ratio of production in the reporting year to that in the previous year
6. Techniques used to identify source reduction opportunities including employee recommendations, external and internal audits, and material balance audits
7. The amount of toxic chemical released into the environment resulting from a catastrophic event, remedial action, or other one-time event and which is not associated with production processes during the reporting year
8. The amount of chemical from the facility which is treated during the calendar year and the percentage change from the previous year
The EPA has several other approaches to encourage pollution prevention, including an information clearinghouse, technical and financial assistance to industry and local government, and waste audits. In addition, the PPA calls for the EPA to "coordinate source reduction activities in each agency office and coordinate with appropriate offices to promote source reduction practices in other federal agencies ... (PPA §6604[b], 42 USC §13103[b]).
The practical implications of the PPA appear in the opportunity for facilities to meet emission or discharge limits under other programs, e.g., the CAA and CWA, by reducing at the source rather than removing at the end of the pipe. The informational aspect of the PPA also requires facilities to reassess where they might be wasting raw materials and where they can reuse materials which otherwise would be discharged into various media.
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