September 17-23 marks the EPA’s annual Pollution Prevention (P2) Week, an effort focused on mobilizing businesses, industries, governments and individuals to do more to prevent pollution before it happens. That is, as opposed to efforts to clean up the millions of tons of pollution the U.S. produces annually at a yearly cost of tens of billions of dollars, P2 motivates everyone to start at the source and prevent the pollution from happening in the first place.
So how do we achieve a world in which all people have equal access to safe water and healthier environments? We’ve all seen powerful photos of volunteers on the beach cleaning up litter, or environmentalists nursing wildlife back to health after pollution struck. No doubt, these efforts are critical and effective, but they’re still reactive to damage that has already been done. A more successful strategy can be found in taking action before pollution has chance to trickle down and impact the lives of individuals, households and communities.
This is what P2 is all about, taking the offensive approach to pollution and stopping it at the source. This means supporting businesses and industries in shifting their focus from waste management and pollution control to reducing or preventing pollution in production, operation and raw-materials usage. It means educating individuals on using EPA Safer Choice products and making homes and every-day living more eco-friendly in terms of energy efficiency, minimizing waste and reducing the carbon footprint. It also means making choices as consumers to help minimize the use of plastics and other materials or products that are used once before being disposed.
As a Peace Corps volunteer in East Africa in the 1990’s, I witnessed firsthand how the lack of access to clean water affects people’s lives. While it may be hard to believe for us in the US—who every day turn on our taps with full confidence that what comes out is safe and plentiful—billions of people worldwide do not have that luxury. The consequences for them can range from inconvenience and large investments of time required to seek out and obtain clean water, to illness or even worse. When we talk about fighting water pollution, we really are talking about fighting for a clean-water, clean-earth equality for all people, now and in the future.
It is estimated that around the world, 80 percent of wastewater gets released, mostly untreated, back into the environment, causing environmental damage and compromising people’s drinking water supply. However, we have the ability to recover nutrients, energy, metals, and other resources from our wastewater and to return the recovered water to the environment in a way that benefits water resources and people. The message from P2 is that if we can combine innovative thinking and positive action to prevent pollution from happening in the first place, we can move closer to experiencing clean-air… clean-water… clean-earth… equality.