By: Emily Newton
Industrial corporations are responsible for conducting robust waste management initiatives to prevent environmental and public health crises.
More than ever, pollution prevention is paramount to industrial waste management systems. Doing so helps organizations avoid contaminating ecosystems, hindering air quality and reducing the financial burden and liabilities of toxic exposures.
Effective waste disposal is something most facility operators and the public know little about. Yet, managing waste properly is critical, requiring well-planned methodologies to ensure lower costs and worker safety. The following sections will discuss the steps facility managers can take to prevent pollution in their approach to industrial waste management and why doing so is vital.
7 Strategies to Prevent Industrial Waste Pollution
Pollution prevention utilizes various tools, techniques and procedures to reduce hazardous waste accumulation from agriculture to technology to health science industries. Organizations can implement the following seven strategies for an industrial waste management system that surpasses federal compliance standards for pollution prevention.
1. Audit Waste Streams
Waste characterization essentially audits the waste stream into categories to determine an organization’s waste type and accumulation rate. Performing a waste characterization helps managers plan for pollution reduction and recycling initiatives.
For instance, electronic waste — also known as e-waste — leaches toxins and chemicals into the environment and wreaks havoc on natural resources. Industries might implement a recycling collection program in response, encouraging staff to donate used technology they no longer need to a non-profit partner.
2. Review and Update Current Waste Management Procedures
Facility managers should review their current waste management strategy to update or design an adequate action plan. Rethinking current management practices is essential to uncover where improvements are needed most.
Revisions could address source reduction targets and compliance violations. Additionally, the new procedures might offer instructions for proper waste segregation and a better way to measure progress for future risk assessment and remediation efforts. Ensuring all workers get training on the latest strategic plan and technologies can improve an organization’s industrial pollution prevention.
3. Improve Hazardous Waste Management
Pollution prevention in industrial waste management is vital to averting hazardous waste exposure. When toxic pollutants and inorganic compounds contaminate groundwater, the effects on people and ecosystems are dire, and remediation is costly. Hazardous waste is often non-biodegradable — the longer it goes unmanaged, the more detrimental it becomes.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains lists comprising 450 hazardous wastes produced in industrial settings — for instance, solvents, metals and sludge from petroleum refineries. Pharmaceuticals, organic chemicals, iron and steel affluents are other common hazardous materials.
Industrial waste management often includes shipping effluents to an offsite storage facility for disposal. Therefore, facility managers must streamline their waste manifesting to ensure safer transport and compliance.
4. Integrate Waste Management Technologies
Technological advancements are improving how organizations adjust their industrial waste management systems. They also deliver streamlined solutions for pollution prevention. Today’s pollution control includes high-tech materials that optimize performance and precision for better air quality assurance in industrial settings.
Other technologies tap into artificial intelligence (AI) solutions for recycling and sorting. For example, AI-waste sorting delivers faster separation of waste materials in a shorter timeframe. These technologies help to reduce human error, promote workplace safety and prove more cost-effective for facilities.
5. Set Measures for Site Remediation
In some instances, remediation is necessary to clean up the industrial discharge. Industries have a long history of contaminating the environment, which prompted the passing of the 1980 Comprehensive Environmental Response and Liability Act.
The act holds industrial polluters accountable for waste cleanup and site remediation caused by the organization. Typically, these contaminated areas are “Superfund Sites” and exist near processing plants, abandoned mines and landfills where waste was improperly disposed of or mismanaged.
Facility managers must integrate robust site remediation measures into their industrial waste management plans to effectively remove their organization’s hazardous waste from the environment. Doing so could entail intermediary regulations and ongoing contaminated soil or water treatments to protect humans and wildlife.
6. Decontaminate Equipment
Proper removal of hazardous contaminants is crucial for pollution prevention at work, meaning facility managers must set rules for field equipment decontamination and regular facility cleaning.
When equipment gets used at a hazardous waste site — for instance, if an organization produces chemicals or remediates a leak — toxic compounds can latch onto the technologies and get carried into the facility. Protecting workers from hazardous pollution exposure must be a top priority in industrial waste management, and all equipment should undergo decontamination with water and detergents.
7. Create a Waste Minimization Plan
Reducing waste production should be part of every industrial waste management plan. Minimizing an organization’s refuse can help prevent pollution and improve work conditions.
When facility managers optimize their pollution prevention strategies to minimize waste, they also reduce the risk of contaminating the environment and impeding human health — two factors that will significantly cut costs long-term.
America’s Problem With Industrial Waste
While industrialism has been profoundly important to economic development and growth, hazardous waste byproducts from broad industries have plagued the United States for over a century.
Following years of lax waste management regulations and loopholes, industrial waste poses a significant environmental and public health risk. Today, one in six Americans reside only three miles from toxic waste sites deemed so dangerous that the EPA is involved in their cleanup.
Hazardous chemical exposure may lead to skin irritations and burns, respiratory difficulties, nausea, vomiting and severe headaches. Under more severe circumstances, people might be susceptible to cancer, congenital and cognitive abnormalities and genetic mutations.
In Houston, Texas, four industrial sites are identified as groundwater and soil contamination sources. Exposure to various carcinogenic chemicals has resulted in 43% of nearby households reporting cancer diagnoses — Houston’s typical cancer rate is 6.1%.
These situations often lead to dire situations for families. For instance, they might rack up medical bills they can’t afford, have to take unpaid leave from work, see their utilities get shut off and risk death. Houston residents have blamed the toxic sites for 12 cancer-related deaths, including that of a 13-year-old.
Industrial pollution also puts ecosystems and wildlife at risk of contamination, reproductive issues and mortality. Other substances have combustion properties that could lead to massive fires and environmental degradation.
Industries are responsible for protecting people and the planet from hazardous pollution. A solid industrial waste management system is an essential solution to the problem.
Optimizing Industrial Waste Management to Protect People and the Planet
Implementing preventative measures to avert industrial pollution helps protect communities and the living environment from toxic debris. Organizations that audit their industrial waste management practices and utilize advanced solutions to optimize their approach ensure better mitigation and preparedness.
Emily Newton is a journalist with over four years of experience covering the environmental sector. As Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, she also covers the many ways technology is changing our world.