Welcome to the Department of Toxic Substances Control

What is Pollution Prevention?

Pollution prevention means reducing or eliminating pollution before it is generated. It is a conscious choice to preserve our natural resources and to protect human and environmental health by acting sustainably to make sure that our resources are suitable for present and future generations. Manufacturers and consumers alike play a vital role in pollution prevention: Product manufacturers strive to create safer processes and products while consumers motivate manufacturers through their purchasing choices.

We are all exposed to harmful chemicals in our everyday lives, both directly and indirectly. We use harsh chemicals in our simple, everyday routines, such as when we clean our living spaces and maintain our yards. These chemicals enter our watersheds and the air we breathe. Our natural resources are limited and overtaxed by many aspects of our lifestyles.

The fundamentals of pollution prevention include:

  • Reducing pollution or waste through conservation, reuse or green technology.
  • Reducing the use of toxic chemicals in the products we produce, buy and throw away.
  • Using green chemistry principles to produce safer products.
  • Using resources more efficiently or from renewable sources.

Pollution prevention avoids generating pollution in the product manufacturing or use stage and does not include reducing pollution by processing or treating waste after it has been created. Therefore, pollution prevention does not include recycling, energy recovery, treatment or disposal. By becoming aware and involved in your purchasing decisions and lifestyle choices, you are engaging in pollution prevention.

To learn more about pollution prevention, see the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange Web page. See DTSC's web page for the 2009 Pollution Prevention Week.

Consumers can find helpful tips at the following Web pages.

For examples of what business have done to support pollution prevention, see the following pages.

Use Less and Use It Wisely (Conserve Water and Energy)

Using natural resources is essential for our daily activities but must be carefully managed to ensure that these resources are available for present and future generations. Natural resources are limited and are in high demand. For example, the average Californian uses approximately 200 gallons of water per day in their home. Here are some average household water usage statistics from the U.S. Geological Survey:

  • Shower: 2 gallons per minute.
  • Teeth brushing: 1 gallon.
  • Toilet flush: 3 gallons.
  • Dishwasher: 20 gallons/load.

By modifying the habits in your household, you are conserving resources and assisting with pollution prevention! Specific steps for resource conservation include:

  • Using less water.
    • Take shorter showers.
    • Adjust your sprinklers so only your lawn is watered and not the house or sidewalk.
    • Cut back on rinsing your dishes if your dishwasher is new. Newer models clean more thoroughly than older ones.
    • When the kids want to cool off in the summer, use the sprinkler in an area where your lawn needs it the most.
  • Using less energy.
    • Air-dry your laundry on warm days.
    • Turn off your computer and monitor when not in use.
    • Bike, take public transit, carpool or drive a hybrid vehicle to work and for nearby errands. Consolidate your car trips to run your errands at once. Several short trips can use twice as much fuel as one trip covering the same distance.
  • Other examples of natural resources conservation:
    • Reducing water pollution and runoff.
    • Preserving or restoring habitat to protect biological diversity.
    • Reducing the use of nonrenewable energy use (fossil fuels and natural gas).

Use Less Toxic Chemicals (Safer Ingredients and Products)

Substituting toxic chemicals in products for safer ones is essential for pollution prevention. In 2001, our wastes contained 84 million pounds of the U.S. EPA’s “priority” (persistent, bioaccumulative [i.e. accumulates in living organisms] and highly toxic) chemicals nationwide. People can change their buying and disposal habits, by seeking less toxic products and by reducing and reusing at every opportunity. Manufacturers can make products less toxic by incorporating green chemistry principles into their business practices. Businesses can participate in programs like the U.S. EPA’s Design for the Environment to commit to pollution prevention efforts and get recognition for being a green business.

Green chemistry represents the future of pollution prevention because it forces us to look at what chemicals are going into our products, why they are there and where they will eventually end up. People are looking at what they consume much more carefully than they have in the past because we face many uncertainties about the safety of chemicals in the products we use and throw away every day. Green chemistry focuses on removing dangerous chemicals from our products and replacing them with safer alternatives.

Throw Away Less (Generate Less Waste)

Almost everything we do at home, at the office and even on vacation creates waste. As we are producing more waste every year, it is increasingly difficult to dispose of it in local landfills, and we end up sending our wastes farther away from where they are generated. This requires additional transportation, which uses more fossil fuels, creating more smog, greenhouse gas emissions and traffic congestion. Reducing your waste can ease the burden on the waste management system and the environment.

  • In 2008, California households sent approximately 12 million tons of waste to landfills, which represented 30 percent of California’s total waste stream.
  • 49 percent of that waste was organic matter (food and yard waste), and another 20 percent was paper!
  • By composting and recycling, up to 70 percent of California's household waste can be managed in ways other than going to the landfill!

Between “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle," the best option is to reduce the amount of waste that is generated in the first place (for example, only buying plastic water bottles when away from home). Composting is a great alternative to sending food wastes to the dump, and finding new uses for “trash” may help your pocketbook and the environment (for example, using empty plastic food containers for storing leftovers). While recycling is important, it is still the least preferred option because you first have to generate the waste in order to recycle it.

The easiest solution is just to use less stuff!  

  • Reuse grocery bags. San Francisco city officials estimate that they spend $8.5 million annually to deal with plastic bag litter because they are a significant litter problem that endanger aquatic wildlife.
  • Reuse the things you have: If you currently buy disposable diapers, disposable razors or paper towels, consider switching to reusable alternatives.
  • For products that you frequently use (like gardening gloves or cell phones), purchase a high-quality, long-lasting option and take care of them so that you don’t have to frequently replace them.

Living Sustainably

Engaging in pollution prevention contributes to increased sustainability or decreases your environmental footprint. Sustainability is a balance between the choices we make that affect our environment, our economy and our society. Acting sustainably requires businesses and consumers to ask themselves questions about what they need, while keeping in mind the environment and the economy.

Many businesses in California are committed to environmental stewardship by changing their day-to-day activities. Learn more about what it takes to be a green business at the Bay Area Green Business Program Web page.

Remember, recycling is not part of pollution prevention because it is a waste management process. Green chemistry principles are the new benchmark for pollution prevention efforts and are shifting our focus from managing all the waste we create to creating products and processes that reduce waste or don’t create waste in the first place. Everyone should recycle, but recycling in itself is not enough to curtail the amount of pollution being created and to live sustainably.  

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