Multimedia Pollution Prevention: Progress by North Carolina Industry

Although attempts to define pollution prevention are long standing, the concept of pollution prevention carries an implicit understanding of a novel approach towards waste (or emission) management. This concept implies a redirected focus to the source of waste generation as well as a heightened consideration of the multimedia effects of any waste management solution. There are some single media regulatory requirements currently in place concerning pollution prevention or waste minimization; however, for a number of years many progressive companies have elected to address waste management issues from a multimedia pollution prevention perspective. The goal of this multimedia approach in continuous improvement of operational efficiency.

The multimedia approach requires that a company assess crossmedia trade-offs of waste management solutions. As the by-products, waste streams, and releases from "end-of-the-pipe" control technologies become more regulated and more expensive to manage, industries are striving for preventive waste management solutions that not only minimize or eliminate crossmedia pollutant transfers but also result in a net decrease in multimedia waste.

Pollution Prevention Activities

Preventive waste management activities are also unique in comparison to compliance activities such as treatment, permitting, corrective action, and reporting. While compliance efforts usually do not provide economic benefits and typically compete within a company's normal capital investment process (see Total Cost Assessment of Pollution Prevention Projects). Facilities are still spending more resources on compliance activities than on pollution prevention activities, although industries are saying that they wish to move the balance of resources toward pollution prevention activities.[1] It is clear that pollution prevention activities are on the increase. Industry views pollution prevention as a cost-effective management strategy and a way of doing business that can direct ongoing initiatives such as total quality management into an environmental framework (see Total Quality Management and Reduction).

Office of Waste Reduction, North Carolina Department of Environment, Health, and Natural Resources

A recent survey of 75 North Carolina hazardous waste generators conducted by the University of North Carolina showed that 97 percent had implemented a source reduction or recycling activity. Of the industries surveyed, 59 percent planned to achieve reductions in hazardous waste generation, air emissions, or wastewater discharges in the near future.[2] On the 1992 Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), 38 percent of approximately 980 North Carolina industries reported implementing source reduction activities during the year, the majority of which dealt with operation and maintenance, process modifications, and raw material modifications (see Figure 1 [provided in source document]). Participatory team management, vendors, waste audits, and employee recommendations were the four most common sources of ideas for these pollution prevention projects.

Hazardous Waste Minimization Activities

A look at waste minimization activities from 586 large quantity hazardous waste generators reveals that 72 percent reported that they conducted a waste reduction opportunity assessment in 1991 or 1992, 57 percent began or expanded source reduction, and 30 percent began or expanded recycling during the same period. As a result of implementation of source reduction and recycling, nearly 10 million pounds of hazardous waste were not generated in 1992.

Waste Generation and Management of North Carolina's Industrial Base

Since 1987, the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) has required approximately 980 companies in North Carolina to report multimedia releases and off-site transfers of a more than 300 toxic chemicals. The Inventory reports a 27-percent decrease in environmental releases and off-site transfers of waste over the 1988 to 1992 reporting period (see Figure 2 [provided in source document]). These releases/transfers include:

This reduction can be attributed to a number of factors including:

North Carolina ranks 12th in the nation for total toxic releases and transfers while placing 8th in gross value of products manufactured.

A look at North Carolina TRI waste management strategies shows that the majority of these wastes are treated on site with on-site recycling the second alternative (see Figure 4 [provided in source document]). The percentage of waste managed on site by North Carolina industries is only about half that of regional and national percentages.

Increasing waste management costs, environmental liability, negative public image, and the on-going search for economically attractive solutions to environmentally related problems are factors that drive industries to employ pollution prevention approaches to solve industrial/environmental problems. Despite these compelling motivations, industries also report many barriers to pollution prevention and waste minimization. These barriers include:

The State of North Carolina is helping in industries address these barriers to pollution prevention. The North Carolina Office of Waste Reduction (OWR) provides a variety of technical services to businesses and industries to help assess waste generation issues through a multimedia, cost-effective pollution prevention approach. The OWR helps promote the goal of a net decrease of multimedia pollutants and waste to the environment through pollution prevention activities. Another major State initiative is the Pollution Prevention Advisory Council, which has made recommendations for the Governor and General Assembly on ways to increase pollution prevention activities in the state (see next article, PPAC Recommendations).


[1] Facility Level Pollution Prevention Benchmarking Study, The Business Roundtable, November 1993.

[2] Report on Hazardous Waste Capacity and Barriers to Pollution Prevention in North Carolina, University of Chapel Hill, April 1994.

[3] 1992 Annual Report on the Generation, Storage, Treatment, and Disposal of Hazardous Waste in NC, , February 1994.

Return to Index

Return to Index