Day: March 14, 2006

Voluntary Priority and Toxic Chemical Reduction – US EPA

Priority and Toxic Chemical Reduction | Resource Conservation Challenge | US EPA

Priority and toxic chemicals make up a fairly limited volume, yet potentially hazardous portion of the nation’s waste stream. We are working to eliminate or reduce priority chemicals and other chemicals of national concern from commercial products, waste streams, and industrial releases through pollution prevention, waste minimization, and recycling/reuse.The 31 priority chemicals are federal priorities because they are persistent, bioaccumulative, and highly toxic. We’re focusing on reducing priority and toxic chemicals to better protect human health and the environment.

By substituting or eliminating certain chemicals in their manufacturing processes, companies produce less waste and thus lower their waste disposal costs. Our goal is to substantially reduce the volume and toxicity of priority chemicals in waste by asking companies to voluntarily:

  • Substitute safer alternatives when they can;
  • Minimize the amount of priority chemicals they use, if they can’t substitute for them;
  • Maximize their recycling efforts;
  • Practice cradle-to-cradle chemical management; and
  • Design products to minimize exposure to, and release of, priority chemicals during manufacturing and use.

Sounds good, and Worldchanging has more:

But nowhere near the progress some companies are making on their own in cleaning up toxic emissions — not simply to be good guys, but to reduce their costs, liabilities, and exposure to activist and shareholder pressures. And, in some cases, to meet their customers’ growing demands for less-toxic or nontoxic alternatives to business as usual.

Read the whole post, which sounds ambivalent about the scheme. The idea is Environmental Good Sense 101, use less, or none at all, practice cradle to grave economics and minimize exposure. Simple stuff, huh. The biggest problem, however, is that by setting limits on a voluntary basis, you always run the risk of setting the bar too low, and then indulging in relentless and pointless self congratulation about how the “market” solved everything, and how rules are so, well, 1970s?

you need a good mix of

  1. Regulation, which sets a minimum, health based bar
  2. Flexibility to the business on how to achieve their targets
  3. Market systems to trade emission credits, etc
  4. Voluntary industry-government initiatives like the one above
  5. Relentless citizen activism that forces governments/business to act
  6. Community outreach and education so consumers can make informed choices
  7. Costing mechanisms that actually reflect free market efficiencies (no stupid subsidies, accurate costing of “externalities”, etc. )

Yeah, this does not fit neatly into the Mano a Mano, you’re with us/you’re against us false dichotomy of choice that seems to beset almost every policy debate (environmental or otherwise). It seems that you never have to do one or the other, but a bit of both, or all of them at the same time.

In the meanwhile, the voluntary program will work, but only in areas in specific instances where it is to a company’s advantage.

BTW, I think that good old fashioned regulation in Europe – See Reach and many many more existing regulations, such as this one for PCBs and Dioxins which I know a little too much about, have a little more to do with American companies reducing POP levels that they care to admit!