Integrating pollution prevention (also known as P2) into your industrial waste management system is essential for not only preventing land and air contamination but also to alleviate the burdens, liabilities, and organizational risks associated with waste management. Facility managers, state regulators, and members of the general public are often in the dark about effective waste management and are looking to improve their strategies while cutting costs and improving worker safety.
By reading this article you will learn:
- How waste is managed in the typical industrial setting
- Why industrial waste is a problem for your business, even if you think you’re managing it properly
- Tips and recommendations for integrating pollution prevention in your waste management system
How is Industrial Waste Managed?
Industrial waste management includes segregation, land application (composting), landfill, and recycling of waste. Let’s break those terms down:
Segregation involves separating the waste by type for effective disposal. Land application or composting is when the waste is treated through biodegradation and added to the soil, which improves the soil by adding more organic material. Landfill is the burying of waste that you cannot recycle or compost - this is the least preferred method of waste management because it results in the direct release of waste into the environment. Recycling is reusing or repurposing waste materials to reduce the amount of waste that is produced. All these processes also utilize various waste management technologies that are available within waste management facilities.
Methods of managing waste vary from facility to facility. Waste characterization is required to assess all the waste types that your facility produces, their level of production, and how you should properly manage them. The characterization process includes consulting experts such as:
- an engineer with high process knowledge.
- a member of the sampling team.
- a quality assurance representative.
These experts among other professionals have in-depth knowledge of inventory, process, and products within your facility. They can provide accurate waste tracking for effective characterization. After the waste has been characterized, you are now able to formulate a good waste management strategy and optimize it for P2.
Why is Industrial Waste a Problem?
Industrial waste poses risks for both the environment and human health. It can cause contamination of soil, air, and water if it is not properly disposed of. This can also negatively impact human health including the health of the workers in your facility.
In 1998, workers in an electronics plant located in Oregon were found to have been exposed to a carcinogenic chemical through the factory's drinking water. The chemical, trichloroethylene (TCE) was used for degreasing in the facility paint shop. It was found in very high concentrations well above the regulated levels due to improper disposal. Drums of degreasing waste were dumped on the ground from the paint shop and they seeped into the facility’s water supply well. The factory was shut down for clean up.
Dumping of waste had not yet been regulated and was still a method of disposal in various industries. The company did not have access to the best information on waste management and were uninformed on the effects of dumping waste on their plant. Gaining information on effective waste management practices can help you prevent incidents such as this one and keep you from harming your employees or being shut down.
What is Pollution Prevention?
Pollution Prevention, as defined by The federal government of Canada, is the use of processes, practices, materials, or energy that minimize the creation of pollutants and waste, to reduce the overall risk to the environment or human health. The Pollution Prevention act of 1990 ranked the methods of P2 as source reduction, recycling, followed by combusting for energy recovery, treatment, and releasing the chemical waste into the environment in an environmentally safe manner, with the most preferred being source reduction and the least being disposal into the environment.
The benefits of implementing the above-mentioned methods go beyond government requirements and compliance. Large automotive companies such as General Motors have generated $1 billion from their efforts to become landfill-free by recycling and reducing waste. Even if you don’t have a billion dollars to recover from your waste, P2 methods are worth pursuing and can greatly benefit your company in the following ways:
Your first step to creating an effective P2 strategy is to evaluate your current processes and identify parts that can be improved using some industry and regulatory best practices. We’ll outline these the technical strategies that will be detailed in the following section.
Incorporating Pollution Prevention in Industrial Waste Management
The three elements of P2 in relation to industrial waste management include source reduction, recycling, and waste treatment. The image below shows the various stages of pollution prevention in order of preference, to ensure as much shift from disposal as possible.
Figure 1: The industrial waste management hierarchy according to the Pollution Prevention act of 1990 provided by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in their industrial waste management Guide.
Source reduction is the first line of defense for P2. It aims to eliminate the amount of waste produced before recycling, treatment, or disposal and to reduce risk to public health. When thinking about source reduction, it is important to ensure that your method will not affect waste generation in any other process during manufacturing. Many manufacturing companies employ various methods of source reduction that enhance their waste management strategy:
- Technological modification such as upgrading equipment is an effective way of reduction. For example, a paint manufacturing company replaced its four-tank cartridge filler with one that completely empties the source tanks to prevent industrial waste disposal of the 'bottom of tank' materials.
- Having a clean, organized facility and effective inventory control also works well. Some aircraft manufacturing plants replace their single-walled vertical tanks with double-walled horizontal tanks which significantly reduces accidents from chemical spills and in turn reduces the waste generated by the plant.
- Reformulating and redesigning your required materials. For instance, using alternate materials with lower risk waste is a way to ensure that less waste is generated. For example, some medical instrument manufacturers have substituted Lead with non-leaded compounds in their PCB manufacturing. While this may not be a possibility for you, it is important to think of points in manufacturing that these changes can be made without affecting waste production in other stages.
These examples barely scratch the surface of how source reduction can be implemented in facilities. Other methods include good housekeeping procedures, reformulating dyes and paints, maintenance, inspections, inventory control, minimal on-site inventory, and effective waste segregation. It is essential that you find a method that is good for your facility.
Recycling is the second most impactful method of P2 that you can implement in your industrial waste management system. This includes in-process recycling such as reusing water, finding alternate use for recycled items, and optimizing your raw materials at other stages. We recommend enrolling in material exchange programs such as Recycler’s World. Recycler’s World is a website that has links to countless state and regional exchange networks. Our other recommendations include charging recyclers for dedicated recycling loads instead of mixed loads to create more revenue and sending back packaging components such as dunnage to the supplier for reuse.
Waste treatment is the least preferred method of pollution prevention, but it is still extremely useful. This is the practice of changing the properties of industrial hazardous waste and making it less harmful. This includes physical treatment, chemical treatment, and biological treatment.
- Physical treatment changes the physical properties (size, shape, or state) of the waste but does not affect the chemical properties.
- Chemical treatment alters the chemical composition of the waste by treating it with different chemicals that cause various reactions.
- Biological treatment is when the waste is exposed to organisms that can decompose organic components into simpler organic products and biomass. The organisms can break down the waste in the presence or absence of oxygen, aerobic, or anaerobic, respectively.
Examples of these categories of waste treatment are represented in the image below. They can be used both individually and/or combined to warrant a reduction in volume and toxicity of waste before disposal. You can choose the methods that apply to the type and volume of waste that is produced in your facility.
Exploring Waste Management Technologies
All this information seems daunting at first glance, but the benefits mentioned above are worth generating an effective waste management strategy that incorporates pollution prevention. In order to ensure your processes are effectively improving safety and/or cutting down on chemical releases, you can consider implementing automation tools to help with effective tracking. If you would like to learn more about how you can track your waste efficiently to start your P2 journey, we recommend watching the video below. It shows how you can use ERA’s waste management software to manage generation, storage, shipment, treatment, reporting, reuse, and industrial waste disposal in your facility.
Your Next Step in Pollution Prevention
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides a short checklist for getting started. We recommend it as a useful set of steps regardless of whether you’re just starting to improve your industrial waste management or if you’ve already established a set of processes and are looking to take them to the next step:
- Explore the above-mentioned options: source reduction; reuse and recycling; treatment; disposal
- Evaluate the benefits of these and cost savings for your facility
- Develop a waste reduction policy
- Conduct an opportunity assessment for pollution prevention
- Research examples of P2 strategies
- Consult with agencies that provide industrial waste management assistance and solutions
- Plan and Implement
Need help with any of these steps? ERA provides a free 30-minute consultation designed to help you understand your processes and suggest ways they can be improved.