Pollution Prevention and Control Strategies, Implications and Challenges
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Pollution has been discussed ever since industrial revolution has brought the bonuses and onuses of industrial and technological development. According to the English Oxford Dictionary (OXFORD 2019), pollution is “the presence in or introduction into the environment of a substance which has harmful or poisonous effects.” In summary, it is something that can cause harm to the environment.
Human activities have been throwing at the environment the need to deal with materials in forms previously unknown. The discovery and advancement of materials and products temporarily useful to humans also bring the need to control all the harm done to the environment caused by artificial production activities, thus the concept of pollution control. Pollution control embeds the series of methods, techniques, technologies, practices, and policies used to reduce or eliminate the emission of pollutants to the environment, whereas pollution prevention is any practice that deals with pollution at the source, avoiding pollution to exist and thus preventing it.
Pollution prevention and control is a wide topic and is well tied to environmental systems, hence being where most of the strategies for pollution prevention begin or even entirely take place. The term has always been linked to a sustainable development and paves the road to a more efficient and economically feasible manufacturing, and it is essential for addressing a number of environmental problems (Harland 2012). When one thinks of the term pollution, one of the first things that come to mind is air pollution, such as emissions from factory chimneys. However, there are many forms of pollution, as one can observe, in water, soil, air, thermal, radioactive, noise, and light. As for the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12 (UN 2015), “sustainable consumption and production,” the discussions in this chapter will be more focused on water, soil, and air pollution, for these can be said to be the most common types of pollution found across industrial facilities and manufacturing processes worldwide.
Drawing from the early implications for pollution increase, the industrial revolution was a milestone in world history; thus it has significantly changed production modes, from manual manufacturing to industrial manufacturing. From then on, pollution began to be a problem for society at large. More industries, more people, more vehicles, they all helped raising air pollution figures (and other types of pollution too). Currently, air pollution is one of the most regarded (and worrisome) pollutions worldwide, mainly in developing countries, such as China (see, for instance, Su and Yu 2019). Furthermore, China is an example of a country that has been developing rapidly, and pollution prevention policies have not been keeping up (as it will be commented on later in this chapter). On the contrary, the United Kingdom considers a key issue that organizations develop more sustainable processes for managing and controlling air pollution (Rani et al. 2008).
As one can see, pollution prevention strategies are the base of the pyramid, that is, what sustains the entire pollution control realm. However, even though regulating bodies and societal pressure have been forcing companies to move towards less harmful practices, what is still seen is that many companies adopt a management system where commonplace strategies are based on disposal, only then they consider treatment, and then up the chain until pollution prevention can even be regarded. Hence, habitual actions have been based on an inversion of values (or at least not on what they should be, towards a more sustainable production and consumption).
Reuse means reusing a product or component more than once, regardless of whether with the same function/purpose or not. This practice also involves the reuse of components, not only of entire products. Recycling, in its turn, is a means of reusing raw materials, materials, components, or entire products that are discarded. In this sense, recycling materials can reduce the amount of waste and consequently reduces the extraction of virgin material from natural sources. Moreover, in Fig. 1, one of the less preferable is waste treatment. Waste treatment consists of a set of methods and operations necessary to reduce negative impacts on the environment, but only after waste is generated, the so-called end-of-pipe treatment. Finally, the less preferable is disposal, where the most known forms of final waste disposal are landfill, controlled landfill, and open dump site.
Considering less harmful initiatives, strategies for pollution prevention yet depend on its generating source. Various strategies can be deployed towards pollution prevention, depending on the type of material/resource that gives origin to it. What’s more, to even increase the concern with pollution, there is a whole informal sector that might contribute to severe pollution problems and might not be on the radar for regulation (Blackman 2000).
To understand the motivation for pollution prevention initiatives and policies, the following discussion presents the types of pollution, followed by a few socioeconomic implications of pollution prevention initiatives and policies, then a list of challenges for pollution prevention are introduced, and some examples of pollution prevention initiatives worldwide are provided. Lastly, this chapter draws on expected future directions for pollution control.
Types of Pollution
As aforementioned, the types of pollution can be identified as soil, water, air, thermal, radioactive, noise, and light pollution. This section sought to present and discuss them.
Air pollution can be considered the most regarded and commented on type of pollution, due to the association with emissions of greenhouse gases by industries and vehicles. On this regard, one of the industries that greatly contributes to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is the electricity industry. This is to be worsened when electricity generation is given by nonrenewable sources, such as nuclear, oil, natural gas, and hard coal. China is one of the examples of countries that depend on charcoal to generate primary energy (Zhu et al. 2016), which leads to high pollution rates. Moreover, CO2 emissions seem to be the most discussed presently, although other gases deserve attention in terms of atmospheric pollution, as sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), contributing to formation of smog and acid rain and particulate matter. In the United States, SO2 emission standards are controlled by rigid standards, while in Germany and Japan, the guidelines are more efficient for NOX emissions (Popp 2006). Such emissions may affect the atmospheric chemistry, the planet’s energy balance, and both the global and regional climates (Rao et al. 2017).
Another type of industry that presents high atmospheric emissions is the ferroalloy manufacturing industry. The selection of the technology to control such emissions is essential since the manufacturing process results in particulate matter and particulate laden gaseous pollutants (Bandyopadhyay 2011).
In addition, another type of pollution is visual. The visual pollution exists in several (if not all) major cities around the world. Public space has been used by companies to advertise their brands and use it as a means to generate strategic and competitive advantages. Oftentimes advertisement in an urban public environment is considered a visual pollution. Examples of it are extensive outdoor advertising, such as by using building facades (see, for instance, Chmielewski et al. 2016).
A further type of pollution is noise pollution, which comprises excessive noise/sound that affect the mental and physical health of living beings. The disturbance of environmental silence comes from an activity that exceeds the noise level of an environment in terms of decibels. In some places, high levels of noise pollution can lead to the application of fines and even imprisonment of the disturber. One of the main high noise levels in urban centers is characterized by traffic sounds, such as the ones generated by motorcycles, vehicles, trucks, trains, and buses. In large urban centers (capitals, metropolises, megalopolises), the high transiting of vehicles and people can be extraordinarily noisy. Engine noise mixes with horns and whistles of traffic agents, and all of them end up characterizing high noise pollution. The highest indices can be said to be concentrated in urban centers, near airports, heavy industries, and concert stages. However, not all types of noise can be considered noise pollution. Worldwide national laws stipulate that in the neighborhood of hospitals, noise levels must be reduced. Thus, this problem can be considered a public health problem and needs to be dealt with.
One less commented pollution is the thermal. In this type of pollution, it is regarded the increase of temperature in the air or in the water causing changes to the environment. Some examples of industries that generate thermal pollution refer to nuclear power plants, refineries, and steel mills. One solution to this type of pollution would be for water and air to be treated before being released into the environment. In this case, water and air must have the same (or approximately the same) temperature as the environment where it is disposed of.
Another type of pollution is radioactive. This pollution arises from the atomic or nuclear energy produced by nuclear power plants. Radioactive pollution is occasionally called nuclear pollution. Radioactive materials are considered very dangerous, making this type of pollution one of the most hazardous.
Water pollution should also be a point to be further discussed. Water pollution occurs in aquatic and marine environments. The disposal of toxic effluents in rivers, lakes, seas, streams, ponds, and oceans by industries still occurs in several locations around the world (see, for instance, Abou-Elela et al. 2007). The disposal of these effluents without proper treatments can cause aquatic and marine environments to lose nutrients for survival of animal (e.g., fish) and plant species, which might end up dying in face of uncontrolled pollution.
Another aspect that has generated discussion in the industrial environment, public policies, and society at large refers to pollution on land (or soil pollution). Pesticides, largely used in agriculture, can be considered as a type of pollution. Control on the use of these chemical products to combat or destroy pests in agricultural activities should be analyzed on a case-by-case basis. Reducing the use of agrochemicals and other agricultural chemicals may be feasible when opted for organic alternatives. Many products are illegal for trade due to their risk of contaminating rivers, lakes, and other water streams, ending up even affecting human health by means of food handling and consumption.
Furthermore, besides the mentioned types of pollution, waste management options can also be the cause of pollution. Many dangerous wastes (as medical and pharmaceutical waste, toxic material, chromium) contain heavy materials in their composition. In some of these cases, incineration is not a cheap process, so non-environmental options are used by some industries, as incorrect disposal of materials. While burning these materials requires a controlled environment and capturing the heavy particles, oftentimes it does not occur in a technical and environmentally controlled way. Therefore, the burning of some heavy materials may result in greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to global warming.
Therefore, production activities have attenuated pollution in cities, industrial areas, and also in rural areas. In view of this, the monitoring of pollution indicators must be done constantly in order to reduce this aspect.
The next section presents some considerations on pollution prevention technologies.
Socioeconomic Implications of Pollution Prevention Initiatives and Policies
Economic assessment of pollution prevention has focused purely on efficiency effects (Parry et al. 2006). However, there are also social and socioeconomic implications underlying these policies that might favor some over others. Pollution prevention initiatives, practices, and actions bring about both positive and negative implications to different stakeholders. Firstly, there is a considerable gap between the implications and results to people with higher economic power and to the ones with lower economic power; also, different geographical areas are affected differently, as well as developed and developing countries.
Knowledge and technology (for pollution prevention) are usually not easy or cheap to be unveiled and developed; hence they all come at a certain cost. It is common knowledge that great part of the world population lives in urban areas. Within these urban areas, there are residential, industrial, and commercial regions. Pollution can be observed differently in these areas, as can the initiatives to control it. Commercial regions will carry greater government and society’s interests; therefore, pollution prevention options will likely be better implemented and monitored, thus being more efficient. For residential regions, it may vary. On the one hand, there will always be residential regions within a city that will be targeted by higher-income families; thus, more expensive to live in, these regions will generally be cleaner, whereas, on the other hand, other residential regions will be targeted by lower-income families. While less expensive to live in, these other areas will likely be more polluted (see, for instance, Hamilton 2005 and Parry et al. 2006), due to less concern from families and maybe even low pressure from residents over governmental action for pollution prevention (e.g., as long as they can afford to live in that area, other concerns than the economic are secondary). Industrial regions are likely to be more polluting than commercial and residential ones, as production activities can be environmentally harmful. In this sense, residential regions targeted by lower-income families can be found next to industrial regions exactly due to the fact that these can be less expensive to live in. These cases can be especially observed in developing countries (see Anderson 1990). It is argued that, overall, pollution prevention policies especially in developing countries are inefficient (Eskeland and Jimenez 1991).
One may argue that pollution prevention policies can benefit more low-income families, since these families are more likely to live in more polluted areas and not always can afford to move (see Bruce and Ellis 1993); thus they would see better use of the results of such policies. Nonetheless, if fuel prices were to go up as a measure for air pollution control, for instance, raising the price of gasoline would affect more high-income families that could afford a gasoline-powered vehicle. However, if the price of diesel was to be raised, public transportation would primarily be affected, bringing effects down to low-income families who do not own a car and need public transportation.
Moreover, there are also employment issues tied to pollution control measures. Liu et al. (2018) discuss the issue that pollution control initiatives might lead to unemployment. It can be seen from Liu et al. (2018)‘s work that on the one hand, unemployment can be due to the use of more efficient technologies, which might require less workforce; whereas on the other hand, end-of-pipe technologies might need extra workforce. Besides, if workers leave their jobs at polluting companies, pollution reduction is not the only cause of their unemployment, since they could be employed elsewhere (for instance, in greener sectors/companies).
Knowing some of the existing implications of pollution, one might inquire about why they are still an issue and what the challenges for overcoming them are. Thus, the next section will address a few existing challenges for pollution prevention and control.
Challenges for Pollution Prevention
There are arguments for and against pollution prevention initiatives, from several parties. Society plays a role, as well as the government and the private sector as a whole. Some people might even be in different parties at the same time and have different views when standing for each of them. Society at large wants the least harmful outputs of any given process to the environment. The government should charge the general public with behaving as in the best interest to society. The private sector, in its turn, longs to see businesses thrive (unfortunately at some expense). Considering these interests, there are challenges to be faced towards pollution prevention, and a few of these challenges are drawn upon hereafter.
Economic progress. It is sometimes argued that environmental pollution causes economic stress (Chan and Huang 2003). However, one cannot deny that pollution prevention actions might disturb companies’ profit-driven behavior regarding capital investment. To counterpoint this challenge, Blackman (2000) claims that early adopters of clean technologies many times have economic incentives to promote further adoption.
Level pollution prevention policies with country development. Countries can develop without adequate pollution controlling. A country’s accelerated development might cause a misbalance with its need for pollution regulation (see, for instance, Eskeland and Jimenez 1991). Companies might take advantage of unregulated territories to thrive at the environment and people’s health expenses.
Engage the informal sector. The informal sector can be responsible for a great deal of pollution. It is not clear with how much it contributes since informal companies are not always accounted for (for a number of reasons, not always known). As it can often be difficult to account for all the pollution caused by such companies, it is beyond beneficial to engage them in pollution prevention initiatives, as regulation might not reach them. One other good reason for engaging the informal sector in such initiatives is that owners usually live/work in proximity to their company’s pollution (Biller 1994), which makes them more aware of the problems their companies’ activities might be causing. A further reason for engaging the informal sector to be a challenge is that in case pollution prevention regulation initiatives raise costs, boycotts will not work, and the informal sector will still be a threat (see, for instance, Blackman 2000).
Appropriate supervision. On top of the informal sector, not all companies’ practices remain within regulation limits. Governments and regulating bodies are responsible for supervising and monitoring companies’ activities; however, selective action from the local governments can still be a challenge to overcome (Wang et al. 2018).
Increase in resource consumption. One could dare to say that most businesses worldwide currently run on a linear model basis. Linear systems are known for their waste generation. Therefore, the greater the demand, the greater the pollution; thus, the more people demanding goods and services, the more pollution there will be. Some argue that pollution prevention should be based on population demographics, as it is to be achieved by means of reducing either production per capita or population size, as commented on De la Croix and Gosseries (2012)‘s article “The natalist bias of pollution control.” On this regard, there has been a push towards circular strategies (away from the linear stigma), rooted on the concepts of the circular economy, where nothing or as little as possible should leave the production-use systems.
Non-regulatory factors that motivate greater environmental performance. Besides being an opportunity for pollution prevention, this is a challenge in developing countries. Practices and actions that incentivize more sustainable consumption by promoting less polluting options are given less attention in developing countries (Blackman 2010), for a number of reasons. These reasons include less economic power from general consumers, who many times cannot afford to pay more for environmentally friendly options, and lack of awareness, where the poorer are less exposed to sensitization actions or education that foment sustainable conduct.
Making clean technologies profitable. Blackman (2000) argues that clean technologies will not be accepted as long as they are not profitable. In a majorly capitalist world, the economic dimension cannot be disregarded. Pollution prevention technologies will only play a role in a company’s processes when they somehow support or generate revenue. In case these technologies become only a burden, companies might try to find ways to disregard them. It is necessary to invest and seek developing technologies that will jointly benefit the environmental and the economic dimensions.
Preannounced readings. Companies know when pollution emission readings will happen, once they are preannounced. Such announcement can lead companies to watch their performance around the time the reading will be taken so that they will not suffer any sort of punishment. These readings can, therefore, be biased and inaccurate (Eskeland and Jimenez 1991).
In spite of all these challenges, there are, though, a few real examples of initiatives that have been quite well accepted and have been spreading around the globe.
Practical Examples of Pollution Prevention and Control Around the World
In recent years, organizations, especially industries, have been seeking to achieve low or null atmospheric, for instance, emissions. Although this is not trivial, it is necessary to invest financial, human, and technical resources to reduce pollution. Therefore, pressure from society and government on companies to reduce pollution is necessary for a more sustainable world.
Moreover, much has been discussed on the use of electric vehicles such as for complementing or replacing conventional internal combustion engines. Currently, on the one hand, most vehicles use fossil fuels as a power source, which contributes with a high share of atmospheric emissions to the environment, while, on the other hand, alternative fuels have emerged in the global context, as ethanol and biomethane with the goal of substantially reducing emissions. Therefore, sustainable alternatives have emerged in order to reduce pollution, mainly in cities. Furthermore, practical and agile transportation means have been developed, such as electric scooters and electric bicycles. In addition, recently, mobile apps that lease these alternative means of transportation have grown exponentially and have been being quite well accepted by the population. Also, the supplies to these cleaner means of transportation have been advancing in several cities around the world. Another suggestion is the maintenance of green areas in cities, such as parks, squares, and green places, which seem to implicate positive effects.
One further way to try to reduce general emissions and waste generation has been supported by banks. Some banks in Asia have influenced companies towards less polluting practices by being sources of financing (Akihisa 2008), aiding less polluting initiatives. Policies with this perspective have been recurrent in the contemporary world, offering not only sources of financing and low interest rates but also awards, local and international recognition, and competitive advantages for organizations that are really seeking to reduce/prevent pollution.
Some examples in terms of pollution prevention and control have emerged in the global context. The main cases seem to be targeted at cities. A recent example occurred in London, England, with strict rules in terms of atmospheric emissions and particulate matter in The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ). This initiative works permanently covering the capital’s central region. Vehicles that circulate in that region must comply with pollutant emission standards, and if they do not comply with such, a fine of £12.50 is incurred for most vehicle types, including cars, motorcycles, and vans (up to 3.5 tonnes), and £100 for heavier vehicles, including lorries (over 3.5 tonnes) and buses/coaches (over 5 tonnes) (Transport for London 2019). For cars, vans, and minibuses, the minimum emission standard is Euro 4 for petrol and Euro 6 for diesel. For lorries, coaches, and larger vehicles (over 3.5 tonnes gross vehicle weight), the minimum emission standard is Euro 6.
In addition, some companies are creating alternative means of transportation in cities aiming low-carbon emissions. An example of this is car sharing and bike sharing. People can save money, care for the environment, and even meet new people in the Go Car Share (2019). The European Union seems to be anticipating sustainable practices. Germany is by far the largest car sharing market in Europe (Deloitte Monitor 2017).
Bike sharing is also revolutionizing the transportation market around the world. In Brazil there are electric scooters and bikes without fixed stations (Yellow 2018). Also, the Ofo Company provides services in more than 250 cities in 21 countries around the world. Among them, there are more than 50 cities and more than 100,000 shared bikes (Ofo 2017). The Mobike use the same mobile app in more than 200 cities, being a service to fulfil urban short trips while reducing congestion and the city’s carbon footprint (Mobike 2018).
One further opportunity to contribute to pollution prevention initiatives is the use of the industry 4.0. Ever since the late years of the twentieth century, artificial intelligence (AI) has been used aiming at initiatives towards pollution prevention and control, as it can be seen in Chang and Huang (2003)‘s piece of research. Pollution prevention and control systems need constant monitoring and benefit from technological assistance. In this regard, one can infer the important role Industry 4.0 features play. The advancement in the field can assist both in pollution prevention and pollution control. Many of the existing initiatives make use of industry 4.0 features, and this is likely to expand in the future, contributing for a more sustainable development.
Universities such as Stanford (see Stanford 2019) are also working towards less polluting practices. The university, assisted by the Environment, Safety, and Health Division, created a Zero Waste Program, which aims to minimize trash going to landfills and maximize recycling. They use the 3R’s concept and address two other initiatives, “compost” and “buy green.”
Nonetheless, anyone can put pollution prevention/control initiatives into practice at home (see, e.g., MIT 2019), by choosing/buying reusable or recyclable products, giving preference to electronic equipment, kitchen appliances, and light bulbs that are more energy efficient, as every kilowatt-hour adds up.
For organizations and practitioners who want to engage in pollution prevention initiatives, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the United States proposes seven steps for developing a facility pollution prevention plan, which include (NOAA 2019) the following: (i) develop pollution prevention goals, (ii) obtain management commitment, (iii) establish a pollution prevention team, (iv) develop a baseline, (v) conduct pollution prevention opportunity assessment, (vi) develop criteria and rank activities/opportunities, and (vii) conduct a management review.
Relationship with Some Sustainable Development Goals
This chapter is directly related to the SDG 12 (Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns). However, other SDGs also have direct and indirect links to pollution-related issues, such as SDG 6 (Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all), SDG 7 (Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all), SDG 11 (Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable), SDG 13 (Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts), SDG 14 (Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development), and SDG 15 (Protect, restore, and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss).
The SDG 6 relates to water pollution, and SDG 7 mitigates aspects of fossil-fuelled power generation and provides support for the use of modern, affordable, and renewable electricity. Related to visual pollution, noise pollution, and emissions of greenhouse gases and particulates of vehicles, SDG 11 supports sustainable cities. The atmospheric emissions cited in this chapter are fully linked to SDG 13 in terms of climate change. In addition, SDGs 14 and 15 support the preservation of marine life and the protection of terrestrial life, as discussed in pollution in water and land, respectively.
Final Considerations and Future Directions
In the quest for a sustainable development, a few strategies are likely to take place in the coming years and decades, and they include policy and technology development.
With the advent of the so-called fourth industrial revolution, the industry 4.0, the plethora of options to manage pollution prevention is likely to widen in the near future. Research and development can benefit from the interaction and the information immediatism facilitated by the industry 4.0. Industry in general is already aware of existing equipment for pollution prevention and monitoring that need little effort and intervention to work; however, as in many other instances, small and medium enterprises struggle to keep up with state-of-the-art technology and its embedded cost. Further research and development may lessen both natural resource and economic burdens from equipment production, and its updating, and the spread of such equipment so that it reaches potentially benefiting facilities (reachable both geographically and in terms of investment).
Policymakers will likely find use in engaging the informal sector with pollution prevention initiatives by providing economic incentives for companies that show commitment with pollution prevention, control, and monitoring. These incentives can include the reduction or waiving of taxes for implementing pollution prevention equipment and practices; practices might be deployed towards establishing less polluting behavior and partnerships, helping partners along the chain of supply (both upstream and downstream) and/or making arrangements for mutual assistance. Efficient policies might also include fomenting knowledge and technology transfer involving industry, academia, and the government towards a less polluting future.
Moreover, it is argued that the revision of standards for pollution control will happen more often, seeking to provide stricter regulations, forcing businesses to adopt a less harmful conduct, and contributing for a recovery of the existing environment.
In the long term, pollution control practices are likely to entirely switch to pollution prevention. As seen in Fig. 1, this is the supporting strategy at the environmental protection hierarchy. Although pollution prevention can oftentimes be more expensive than disposal, companies and managers need to be well aware of it in order to seek competitive advantage (e.g., financing facilities, planning to conquer potential rewards, or market expansion) and, above all, support environmental care.
Therefore, much research has been focusing on mitigation measures for pollution control and prevention. It is an impetus for organizations to apply the recommendations given in this chapter so that the next generations will have resources and quality of life in terms of air, water, and soil for survival.
It is expected that more researchers, entrepreneurs, government actors, and society at large embark on environment-saving measures and prompt positive action to mitigate pollution. It is believed that small changes in individuals’ habits can make the world more sustainable.
This work was supported by the Coordination of Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (CAPES) and the Federal University of Technology – Paraná (UTFPR), Brazil.
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