Jump to main content.

Basic Information

Pollution prevention is reducing or eliminating waste at the source by modifying production, the use of less-toxic substances, better conservation techniques, and re-use of materials. For more details you can read P2 Definitions. The Why Should You Care About Preventing Waste? brochure outlines P2 practices that can help small businesses cut waste and save resources.

In the 1970s, the acute and visible pollution problems of our air and water and the burgeoning problems of hazardous waste disposal pointed us toward controlling and managing the wastes that we could see. EPA developed standards, promulgated regulations and enforced the law with an emphasis on end-of-pipe solutions. These actions had a measurable and positive effect on environmental quality.

In the 1980s, more diffuse and subtle sources of pollution and better methods of detection increased awareness of how ubiquitous and long-lived our waste problems are. Difficult-to-control sources of pollution and recognition of the global nature of environmental issues brought the concept of pollution prevention as a compelling response to the prospect of further contamination. Pollution prevention was a basic reorientation of the nation's approach to pollution that would prevent problems before they occurred. The following is from the text of Pollution Prevention Act of 1990.

"The United States of America annually produces millions of tons of pollution and spends tens of billions of dollars per year controlling this pollution.

"There are significant opportunities for industry to reduce or prevent pollution at the source through cost-effective changes in production, operation, and raw materials use. Such changes offer industry substantial savings in reduced raw material, pollution control, and liability costs as well as help protect the environment and reduce risks to worker health and safety.

"The opportunities for source reduction are often not realized because existing regulations, and the industrial resources they require for compliance, focus upon treatment and disposal, rather than source reduction; existing regulations do not emphasize multi-media management of pollution; and businesses need information and technical assistance to overcome institutional barriers to the adoption of source reduction practices.

"Source reduction is fundamentally different and more desirable than waste management and pollution control. The Environmental Protection Agency seeks to address the historical lack of attention to source reduction.

"As a first step in preventing pollution through source reduction, the Environmental Protection Agency has established a source reduction program which collects and disseminates information, provides financial assistance to States, and implements the other activities provided for in the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990.

"Congress declared it to be the national policy of the United States that pollution should be prevented or reduced at the source whenever feasible; pollution that cannot be prevented should be recycled in an environmentally safe manner, whenever feasible; pollution that cannot be prevented or recycled should be treated in an environmentally safe manner whenever feasible; and disposal or other release into the environment should be employed only as a last resort and should be conducted in an environmentally safe manner."

From The Pollution Prevention Act (PDF) (10 pp., 39 KB about PDF)

Each September EPA promotes Pollution Prevention week.

Read more:


Pollution Prevention is key to national environmental protection activities. A number of other EPA Offices have programs implementing P2.

Pollution Prevention Home | OPPT Home

Local Navigation

Jump to main content.