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Hazardous Wastes

Waste Prevention

In the 1990s, government regulators and others recognized the strengths of waste prevention as a tool for managing hazardous wastes. Waste prevention means using smaller quantities of potentially harmful materials or products, or using materials that are less toxic. The obstacles encountered by CERCLA underscored a need to manage hazardous waste by preventing its creation in the first place. Waste prevention is less expensive than treatment or disposal because it does not require transportation, processing or cleanup. It also can save on product production costs because fewer resources are needed. Furthermore, much of the environmental and human health damage caused by hazardous waste contamination is irreversible. The chemical dump at Love Canal, for example, has been cleaned up, and the site is no longer contaminated, but there is no financial remedy for a person who lost his or her life to cancer, or lived with a deformity caused by the contamination.

Businesses can prevent hazardous waste problems in a number of ways: they can reuse hazardous chemicals, improve storage and transportation methods, substitute less dangerous chemicals for more dangerous one, redesign production methods to eliminate the need for hazardous materials, and improve record-keeping and labeling of materials. Prevention measures often carry a significant up-front expense, but such waste prevention projects usually pay for themselves. Sometimes the financial benefit of such an "ounce of prevention" takes years to become apparent, but often the gain is almost immediate. Exxon Corporation, for example, spent about $140,000 to redesign several chemical storage tanks. The improvement allowed the company to reduce its chemical use by 700,000 lb (318,000 kg), and to save more $200,000 a year. Lower disposal, treatment, and shipping costs aren't the only benefits to companies that instate waste prevention practices. More efficient record-keeping, reduced legal liability, safer employee work conditions, and improved public image all promote a business's economic success.

Industrialized society will always generate some hazardous waste. However, prevention has emerged as the key to environmentally and social responsible hazardous waste management. As the costs of hazardous waste treatment and disposal continue to rise, waste prevention makes even more economic sense. The combination of national and international waste clean-up efforts, safe handling regulations, and prevention measures is expected to reduce the present threat that hazardous wastes pose to human and environmental health in coming decades.



Miller, E. Willard, and Ruby Miller. Environmental Hazards: Toxic Waste and Hazardous Material: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 1991.

Harte, John, et al. Toxics A to Z: A Guide to Everyday Pollution Hazards. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

Mazmanian, Daniel, and David Morell. Beyond Superfailure: America's Toxics Policy for the 1990s. Boulder: Westview Press, 1992.

Page, G.W. Contaminated Sites and Environmental Cleanup. London: Academic Press, 1997.


United Nations Environmental Programme. "Secretariat of the Basel Convention." August 1, 2002 [cited October 22, 2002]. <http://www.basel.int/>.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. "Hazardous Wastes." October 4, 2002 [cited October 22, 2002]. <http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/osw/hazwaste.htm>.

Tom Watson
Laurie Duncan


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—A fund created by the U.S. Congress to help clean up hazardous waste dumpsites.

Toxic waste

—A type of hazardous waste that is capable of killing or injuring living creatures.

Waste prevention

—A waste management method that involves preventing waste from being created, or reducing waste.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Habit memory: to HeterodontHazardous Wastes - Sources Of Hazardous Wastes, Protection From Hazardous Wastes, Government Management Strategies, Treatment And Disposal Technologies