Monday, September 17, 2012

Preventing pollution pays big dividends; lets keep at it!

By K Seiler, Hazardous Waste and Toxics Reduction manager

I’m excited to announce this week is National Pollution Prevention Week and an opportunity to recognize Washington State success stories achieved by industry! I’m energized by these results, and the savings of more than $45 million reported by a subset of Washington businesses through our state Pollution Prevention Program since 2005.

Since we havebeen working on pollution prevention for more than 20 years, this week is also an opportunity to answer the question, are we done yet? The answer is no, we aren’t done.

As we look to the future, one of the biggest remaining challenges is reducing toxic threats to our environment and public health. I’m excited about our state’s forward-looking work such as developing alternative chemical assessment guidance and a green chemistry roadmap. This work is aimed at getting to safer chemical substitutes for use in product design, manufacturing, sale and disposal. It’s a win-win for the economy and the environment.

Ecology assists business to reduce toxic wastes

Furthermore, Washington’s Waste Reduction Act tasked Ecology to work with businesses and help them reduce the wastes they generate. We do this two ways. We provide technical assistance to all businesses. And we specifically help larger businesses create and carry out Pollution Prevention Plans. These plans focus on opportunities to reduce toxic chemical use.These businesses have reduced the amount of dangerous waste they produce yearly by 100 million pounds since 2000.

But businesses in our state still generate more than one hundred million pounds of dangerous waste yearly. That’s a lot of waste. But it doesn’t represent all the toxic waste generated in Washington. It doesn’t represent the amount of toxics that are discharged legally to our waterways from businesses.

And it doesn’t represent the amount of toxics that we as individuals purchase in products that make their way into the environment. We are all affected by toxic wastes. Reducing the amount of toxics used and wastes generated or released to the environment is the smartest, cheapest way to reduce risk to people and businesses.

Opportunities for toxics reduction ongoing

Businesses that have worked on reducing their wastes continue to benefit from opportunities. Over time, business operations change, personnel changes and technology changes. New eyes see new opportunities for reductions. Even those facilities that have worked for many years to reduce their wastes find ways to reduce waste even more.

Ecology can cite many examples of businesses that have reduced the toxics, wastes and resources they use. For example, Accra-Fab, Inc., in Liberty Lake, Washington, had been working on reducing their wastes for at least 17 years. However, as a result of taking part in a Lean and Green Project, the company reduced their bottom line more by saving wastewater treatment costs and reducing their use of chemicals. A video highlighting Accra-Fab’s success will earn a national award in Washington D.C. during Pollution Prevention Week.

Every day businesses use toxic chemicals when there are safer alternatives available. Every day we choose to buy products that contain toxic chemicals. Ecology has been working on developing tools to help businesses and the public make better choices. If you are interested in information on how to reduce toxics, the following resources are available:
  • Assessing chemical alternatives
  • Pollution prevention successes
  • Business pollution prevention resources
  • Information for households and communities

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