Strategy For Waste Reduction

Pollution prevention initiatives tend to progress in three separate stages, beginning with a waste audit and associated training and awareness raising, which brings forward the most easily implemented and cost-effective waste reduction measures, as described below. The strategy should be for each company to move through the first stage and get started on a long-term and sustained pollution prevention effort involving all the three stages.

A way to classify wastestreams is to consider them "intrinsic," "extrinsic," or somewhere in-between. Intrinsic wastes are inherent in the fundamental process configuration, whereas extrinsic ones are associated with the auxiliary aspects of the operation.

Intrinsic wastes are built into the original product and process design. These represent impurities present in the reactants, byproducts, coproducts, residues inherent in the process configuration, and spent materials employed as part of the process. Becoming free of intrinsic wastes requires modifying the process system itself, often significantly. Such changes tend to require a large amount of research and development, major equipment modifications, improved reaction (e.g., catalytic) or separation technology—and time.

Extrinsic wastes are more functional in nature and are not necessarily inherent to a specific process configuration. These may occur as a result of unit upsets, selection of auxiliary equipment, fugitive leaks, process shutdown, sample collection and handling, solvent selection, or waste handling practices. Extrinsic wastes can be, and often are, reduced readily through administrative controls, additional maintenance or improved maintenance procedures, simple recycling, minor materials substitution or equipment changes, operator training, managerial support, and changes in auxiliary aspects of the process.

A recent study of programs for existing facilities of several companies reveals that a pollution-prevention initiative will tend to progress in stages.9 After a training period and an audit of the wastes in the process, the first reduction efforts emphasize the simple, obvious, and most cost-effective alternatives and are generally directed at extrinsic wastes.

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