Barriers To Waste Reduction

Although economic factors often work in favor of pollution prevention approaches, there is always some resistance to change of any kind. Waste reduction projects can reduce operating costs and improve environmental compliance, but they frequently bring out conflicts between different groups within a company.

Economic barriers to pollution prevention include the following:

Inaccurate market signals. Sometimes the immediate cost of releasing toxic substances is less than the cost of implementing a pollution prevention project. This occurs when the longrange cost of the release is not included in the calculations. Incomplete accounting. Indirect benefits, such as lower future liabilities and improved public image, are not commonly considered in a financial analysis. Fear of lowering quality. This is very common in situations where unused feed materials are recovered from a waste and recycled back into the process. If not done properly, such processes may affect quality. Worker fear of job loss. If employees or labor groups look upon pollution prevention as a threat to their jobs, these concerns may pose a barrier to new processes. Fear of losing market share. Surveys suggest that a significant barrier to pollution prevention is reluctance to tamper with proven processes for fear of adverse effects on product quality [7],

Attitude-related barriers must be overcome before any pollution prevention program is tried, or it is destined to fail. A prevailing attitude is to maintain the status quo and avoid the unknown. There is also a fear that a new program may not work as advertised. Without the commitment of everyone involved, a pollution prevention program is doomed to failure.

The Case of the Proverbial Potato1

In 1986, a coatings manufacturer in Hamburg, Germany hired a bright young process chemist for one of its factories. The young chemist was involved in preparing a high quality varnish to be used as a sealer on musical instruments. While reviewing the formula, he was surprised to see that it called for a potato to be added after each new ingredient was mixed into the batch. Curiosity got the best of him. He asked the head chemist what physical or chemical properties the potato added to the batch. The head chemist abruptly told the young man that potatoes had been added to the varnish batches for over 50 years and reprimanded him for his insolence.

Not easily discouraged, the young chemist began asking other chemists in the lab about the addition of potatoes. Unable to provide an answer, they too became curious about the use of potatoes in the varnish batches. One of the older employees on the staff suggested that the young man contact a retired chemist who lived in a nearby village.

The old chemist had worked at the factory for many years before his retirement. He explained to the inquisitive young man that during the war years, thermometers had been very hard to acquire. Potatoes had been used to tell when the batch had reached the proper temperature for adding the next ingredient. When this information was conveyed to management, the use of potatoes was halted at the factory and thermometers were substituted.

'Adapted from Ref. 8.

This story exemplifies our reluctance to change. It also demonstrates that one concerned individual, through persistence, can make a difference. Of course, a potato is not considered a hazardous or toxic substance, but it is symbolic. Often, less toxic and equally effective substitutes are available for a process, but they are not used because "this is the way we've always done it."

When a person does not fully understand the nature of a proposed option and its impact, a common attitude is that "it just won't work." Attitudinal changes are more likely to occur when people are presented with stimuli that encourage self-persuasion. Techniques of persuasion used by others may force the confused individual into a defensive posture. When this happens, creative options may be dropped before they can be evaluated. One way to avoid this is to use idea-generating sessions (brainstorming), encouraging participants to propose a large number of options without regard to cost, technology, or barriers. The more impractical ideas will be dropped anyway, but previously undiscovered problem-solving solutions may emerge.

Many business managers are surprised to discover that waste reduction does not always necessitate large-scale investments. Significant savings have resulted from such simple, com-monsense improvements as better housekeeping, preventive maintenance, balancing inputs and outputs (inventory control), and minor process changes.

Waste minimization should be viewed as an investment in the company's future. It begins with a concept as simple as "Waste—If you don't produce it, you won't have to dispose of it." At first, this statement seems oversimplified and naive; however, upon further review, many managers have become impressed with how often this principle can be applied.

Waste minimization is a relatively low-cost but effective procedure for reducing liability and increasing profits. Often, waste minimization processes do not require high technology or expensive equipment. In many cases, very simple shop practices and procedures, combined with low-cost equipment, can greatly reduce the amount of hazardous waste generated. In addition, 42 states presently offer tax credits or exemptions for companies purchasing pollution prevention equipment [9].

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