What is Pollution Prevention?

US EPA Waste Management Hierarchy including pollution prevention
A version of the U.S. EPA Waste Management Hierarchy showing pollution prevention. See https://www.epa.gov/smm/sustainable-materials-management-non-hazardous-materials-and-waste-management-hierarchy for the more typical version.

September is a time to think about pollution prevention, aka P2, because the third week of September every year is celebrated as Pollution Prevention (P2) Week in the U.S. In 2023, P2 Week will be September 18-22. As you mark your calendar, you may ask yourself—what exactly is pollution prevention, and how can I contribute to the effort?

First, let’s take a moment to consider what pollution itself is. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines pollution as “any substances in water, soil, or air that degrade the natural quality of the environment, offend the senses of sight, taste, or smell, or cause a health hazard. The usefulness of the natural resource is usually impaired by the presence of pollutants and contaminants.” So, pollution is the contamination of the environment by potentially harmful substances. If you think of a polluted environment as analogous to a human body with harmful chemicals in it or disease, then it’s easy to think of pollution prevention as analogous to disease prevention. You’ve probably heard the old quote from Benjamin Franklin, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Although Franklin was talking about the prevention of house fires, in modern times, the phrase has come to be used in the sense of health care. It means that taking preventative measures (e.g., exercising, watching what you eat, getting enough sleep, etc.) is a much more sensible strategy to take, wherever possible, than waiting until disease sets in and then working to treat it. It’s far better to avoid a problem than to have to try to solve the problem afterward.

Thus, pollution prevention is the sensible strategy of preventing the release of harmful substances into the environment, aka source reduction, to avoid the negative impacts of pollution and the cost, time, energy, and other resources that would otherwise need to be expended on environmental clean-up after the fact. Or, as the U.S. EPA states, pollution prevention is “actively identifying equipment, processes, and activities which generate excessive wastes or use toxic chemicals and then making substitutions, alterations, or product improvements.” P2, or source reduction, “is fundamentally different and, where feasible, more desirable than recycling, treatment or disposal. It is often more cost effective to prevent pollution from being created at its source than to pay for control, treatment and disposal of waste products.  When less pollution is created, there are fewer impacts to human health and the environment.”

P2 practices for manufacturing and industrial sectors might entail using less toxic cleaners, less hazardous ingredients or process inputs, conserving energy and water, and reducing waste through the reuse of materials such as drums or pallets. Manufacturers and supporting industries in Illinois can also contact the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC ) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) to learn more about U.S. EPA-funded P2 assistance available free of charge to members of the aerospace, automotive, chemical, food and beverage, and metal manufacturing and fabrication sectors. See https://uofi.box.com/s/ypoep56408o4kk5pl0qpt2ojpwyo82qh and https://uofi.box.com/s/1crril27e0td9nd3j3njgh49mzoom0q5 for details.

The principles of P2 can be applied to any sector or effort and in homes and schools. It’s all about more efficient use of valuable resources, such as energy and water, using less-toxic materials and products, and avoiding the generation of waste so you don’t have to deal with as many disposal considerations. So, if you practice waste reduction by eliminating disposable products and single-use plastics, if you purchase and use energy-efficient appliances and weatherize your home for the winter, if you look for and fix leaky pipes or faucets, or if you use safer cleaners, you’re practicing P2!

Use the following resources to learn more about P2 and how you can contribute to “preventative medicine” for environmental health and our collective human health which depends upon a healthy environment.

Small companies save big with tech advice

Technical assistance available for small, rural businesses.
Manufacturers in smaller towns and cities of Illinois can get help being more profitable and sustainable through ISTC’s Illinois Conservation of Resources and Energy (ICORE) program.


A model program to provide technical assistance services to underserved rural areas of Illinois has generated $24 million in savings of energy, water, and waste over its first eight years.


In smaller, rural communities technical assistance professionals usually have a more difficult time identifying companies that would benefit from their services. ICORE takes a grassroots approach to identify partners and stakeholders with contacts at municipalities, organizations, associations and agencies. Networking at the local level spreads the word of the potential benefits of third-party business assessments.


“In big urban areas it is easy enough to find companies that will benefit from sustainability improvements that will save them money,” said Mike Springman, who with fellow ISTC environmental engineer Dan Marsch, have delivered ICORE, which stands for Illinois Conservation of Resources and Energy, services from the beginning. “We wanted to find a way to share what we offer to the whole state, in particular businesses located in rural communities.”


ICORE offers customized assessments resulting in recommendations to conserve energy, reduce water consumption, reduce hazardous materials/wastes, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and save money.  At two recent assessments at Illinois food companies, a range of recommendations were identified , such as improved efficiencies in compressed air, process heat, motors, lighting, water/wastewater and minimization of food waste.


Caseyville’s AdvancePierre Foods implemented more than half of the recommendations, some right after the site visit. “Very good information and details emerged from the audit, which we are still working on,” said Michael Doeden, plant manager of the company’s St. Clair County facility. “It is a great way to start a foundation for continuous improvement and cost savings.”


Upgrading old electrical equipment is saving the company $6,000 a month, Doeden said. Other ideas like metering for waste water sewage credits will be adopted down the line, he added.


King’s Food Products in Belleville, Ill., welcomed the assessment for third-party expertise on how to be more efficient. “The assessment … generated a list of task items we hadn’t considered,” said Stephanie Fahrner, vice president for operations. “Overall the project/participation will improve us as a company — through savings, efficiency, and employee and environmental safety.”


“This is a great way for your team to see ideas generated, resources available, and training provided to help continuous improvement in a manufacturing plant,” Doeden agreed. “Additionally, E3 assessments focus on economy, energy and environment … which will benefit sustainability programs, people and is a good foundation for business practices, he added.”


In 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in partnership with five other federal agencies formed the E3 technical assistance framework (Economy, Energy, and Environment). One year later EPA started funding the ICORE approach which has taken hold and today has expanded to deliver EPA’s E3 assessments as well.


One way of viewing the impact of the program is as accumulated savings which continue to accrue each year. By this measure, between 2008 and 2016, ICORE assistance has made a difference in Illinois totaling approximately $24 million, 160 million gallons of water, 1.9 million therms of natural gas, 209 million kilowatt hours of electricity, 20 million pounds of waste, 433,000 pounds of hazardous waste, and 200,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions avoided.


For more information about ICORE/E3 assessments for your business, visit the technical assistance pages at http://istc.illinois.edu/



Illinois Sustainability Award keynote shows power of green business

With one week left to submit entries for the 2017 Illinois Sustainability Award, ISTC has released the video of one of the 2016 Awards Ceremony’s Keynote Speakers — John Bradburn, Global Waste Reduction Manager at General Motors Corporation.


Speakers John Bradburn and Kim Frankovich.
2016 ISA keynote speakers were Kim Frankovich, global sustainability director at Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company (left) and John Bradburn, global waste reduction manager at General Motors Corporation.

Bradburn’s address, “Stuff, Things and People Working to Grow Economies and Communities,” formed a powerful complement to the second keynote by Kim Frankovich, global sustainability director at Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company, a subsidiary of Mars, Inc.


In her address, “Sustainability within Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company,” Frankovich described the effectiveness of a privately held company to partner with non-governmental and international expert agencies to promote environmental responsibility and social justice for suppliers, workers, and customers.


In a more than 30-year career, Bradburn has spearheaded efforts to recycle, upcycle, reduce pollution hazards, and create fundamentally impactful opportunities to advance the prospects for the environment, communities, and his company.


Both addresses were inspiring as models for how very different companies can excel in business and in society with creativity and bold action embodied by the Illinois Sustainability Awards. Frankovich’s address will also be made available online as a later date.


REMEMBER: Online applications for this year’s Illinois Sustainability Awards are due at ISTC by 5 p.m. Thursday, May 4.


2017 ISA awards ceremony, 10.24.17, Union League Club of Chicago

Sustainable Laboratories Keep their Cool with Scientific Rigor

North American Laboratory Freezer Challenge at ISTC
ISTC labs participated in the North American Laboratory Freezer Challenge to improve their sample storage. Right, Susan Barta, analytical chemist, prepares old samples for proper disposal.


Laboratories at ISTC ‘got chill’ on March 7 as they got busy with the 2017 North American Laboratory Freezer Challenge.


The Challenge promotes sample accessibility, sample integrity, reduced costs, and energy efficiency by recognizing best practices that support science quality and resilience — in addition to minimizing total costs and environmental impacts of sample storage.


The competition was a good opportunity to clean out samples that were no longer needed and update organization and logs to improve laboratory access, according to John Scott, senior analytical chemist at the Center.


Lance Schideman, research scientist, and John Scott, senior analytical chemist, review chemical stocks
Lance Schideman (left), research scientist, and John Scott, senior analytical chemist, review chemical stocks as part of the Freezer Challenge.

According to Challenge organizers, the International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories (I2SL) and My Green Lab, the Centers for Disease Control and the University of California Davis reported that 10-30 percent of items stored in refrigeration units were no longer needed or no longer viable.


Scott said the Challenge offers an excellent incentive to review and update stocks of research materials. Especially when a researcher changes jobs, an effort should be made to examine which samples are no longer needed, he said.


Major industry sponsors of the Challenge are Stirling Ultracold, ThermoFisher Scientific, and Panasonic. Participants earn points for their activities and winners will be announced in October.


Laurel Dodgen and Viktoriya Yurkiv review lab stores
Postdoctoral research assistant Laurel Dodgen and assistant research chemist Viktoriya Yurkiv help with the Challenge.

Tiny Scavenger Proves Apex Predator in Oil Spill Clean Up

nano-carboscavenger particles are small
Two-layered Nano-CarboScavengers have properties to both clump oil spill sheen and disperse them for bacterial digestrion.

When there is an oil spill in a body of water, booms are used to contain it so the contamination can be collected. The aftermath still leaves a sheen of oil that response teams then attempt to keep from devastating the natural environment.

What do they do? They dump chemicals into the water which may be as bad environmentally as the oil.

Enter engineers and chemists from the University of Illinois College of Engineering and ISTC with a new tool to more truly eliminate the damage from oil spills. They have developed microscopic carbon particles they call Nano-CarboScavengers which work in two ways. They have the ability to attract oil and swell in size, creating visible clumps which can be scooped up. The tiny spheres also reduce the surface tension of polluted water, giving natural microorganisms a chance to digest petroleum compounds into harmless components.

Let’s hear it for the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) which showed confidence in Bioengineer Dipanjan Pan and the team to provide them with seed money to develop the idea in 2015. Now the work is published in Nature Publishing. iSEE’s website has the full story.

Biobased Lubricants Improving, Gaining Favor in Natural Workzones

distilled bio-crude yields fractions which have lubricant properties
Senior Research Engineer B.K. Sharma displays a number of bio-crude fractions he uses to create replacements for petroleum lubricants.


Non-petroleum biobased machine lubricants are an increasingly important strategy for preventing pollution in environmentally sensitive work places, such as for forest, agricultural, and marine applications. The new book Environmentally Friendly and Biobased Lubricants by Brajendra K. Sharma and Girma Biresaw, published by CRC Press, focuses on innovations in this promising area.


Eco-friendly machine lubricants made from vegetable oil are a growing niche in the +$150 billion global lubricants industry. Biobased lubricants are preferred for machines used in total-loss applications (in which the lubrication oils are lost to the environment) because they are renewable, have low ecotoxicity, and are biodegradable when they enter the environment.


They possess good performance properties, such as having lower volatility, higher flash points, higher viscosity indexes, and better boundary lubricant properties, compared with petroleum lubricants, according to Sharma, a senior researcher at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


The book surveys researchers’ growing success in producing designer molecules that reduce heat and minimize friction as well as or better than their petroleum-derived counterparts. Sharma and Biresaw, a research chemist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service in Peoria (ARS), have synthesized the broad body of current research in their book.


book: Environmentally Friendly and Biobased LubricantsBiobased lubricants are not likely to replace petroleum completely, Sharma said. Bio-lubricants today are scarcely one percent of the total market demand for lubricants, but their annual demand is growing at a rate of 16 percent per year, compared with the two percent annual demand growth for petroleum versions. “But in applications where lubricants are likely to be lost to the environment, these products are taking a firm hold in the marketplace,” he said.


Using heat and enzymes, researchers strip double bonds from molecules, add new elements, attach branches, or join two molecules together to mimic the properties of petroleum lubricants. They are now finding ways to overcome persistent weaknesses of bio-lubricants, including poor oxidative stability and poor low-temperature flow properties.


Some of the best results leading to commercial products are obtained from processing the fatty acids present in vegetable oils. Estolide lubricants developed at the Agricultural Research Service laboratory solve many of the negatives of raw vegetable oils—excellent lubricity, low-temperature performance, oxidative stability, and biodegradability. In addition to lubrication, estolides are being evaluated for use in food applications, cosmetics, cooling fluids, and inks.


Other naturally derived fatty acid compounds under study for lubricant applications include epoxidized oil, vegetable oil diesters, and isostearic acids, according to Sharma. The increasing interest in eco-friendly lubricants is also good news for farmers in the Midwest who grow the raw materials, he added.


Most studies have shown that canola oil will produce the best overall characteristics for bio-lubricants, but corn, soybean, and rapeseed oils are also widely used. Another biologic crop — sugar cane — is taking a far different path to lubrication. Amyris Inc. is commercializing its renewable hydrocarbon farnesene, made with cane sugar and a bioengineered yeast, to produce hydrocarbons for jet fuel, lubricants, and many other uses.


Sharma is currently designing renewable bio-additives to improve the performance characteristics of eco-friendly lubricants. Just as with petroleum lubricants, additives are blended to improve the lubricity, oxidative stability, friction, wear, and corrosion resistance of the base material.


Sharma’s latest patent is for a new molecule of fatty acid chemically modified with boron to produce an antiwear, antifriction additive for vegetable oil-based lubricants. As Sharma continues to build new shapes for plant-derived molecules in the laboratory, he said his goal is to develop a single additive that optimizes all the critical properties of sustainable and renewable lubricants.

Toxics Reduction and Sustainability in Paper Manufacturing

Pulp and paper manufacturing companies usually are very resource-intensive and utilize large quantities of water and wood in their operations. In order to help them be more sustainable as well as reduce operational costs, the NY State Pollution Prevention Institute (NYSP2I) is leading a multi-agency effort working with four pulp and paper mills in New York’s Great Lakes watershed region that has resulted in toxic chemical reductions as well as improvements to energy and water usage at those companies.

The four-year program, titled “Toxics Reduction and Sustainability in Paper Manufacturing,” is part of a vast Great Lakes Restoration Initiative led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and includes the efforts of many federal agencies.

The first of four case studies has recently been published.  The initial case study is about sustainability efforts at Finch Paper LLC which specializes in uncoated paper for digital and traditional printing markets. Finch Paper turned to NYSP2I for an analysis of two areas within their operations: ammonia recovery and heat recovery.  Other case studies from this program will be published soon and will be available on the NYSP2I case study website.

Academic/Government Partners Work Toward the Next Level in Home Water Filtration


Nanoparticle Membrane Technology Investigated for Commercial Viability  

gold membrane for water filtration
Illustration of free-standing gold membrane with nanoparticles 6 nanometers in diameter and openings of 2 micrometers.

ISTC’s Nandakishore Rajagopalan and Wei Zheng are part of a team of experts from government and academia who are working to improve the filtration of household drinking water using new ultrathin nanoparticle-based membranes to remove trace organic contaminants (TrOCs).


The U.S. Department of Energy will fund the work through its Technology Commercialization Fund, which moves promising energy technologies developed by 12 national laboratories and their research partners to the marketplace. ISTC will assist in the testing the performance of prototype TrOCs filtration membrane devices which may be commercially viable for the home water filtration market. The primary investigator on the project is Xiao-Min Lin, a scientist at Argonne’s Center for Nanoscale Materials and at the James Franck Institute, University of Chicago.


Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago developed the technology for the new membrane structure using gold nanoparticles which are strong and porous, and which can be ‘dialed’ to selectively trap different contaminants by engineering the ligand on the particle surface. A ligand is a molecule that binds to a central metal atom to form a complex that helps to protect the nanoparticle and introduce additional functionalities. Laboratory measurements have demonstrated the nanoparticle based membrane can selectively filter out molecules as small as 2 micrometers, yet has water permeability far higher than conventional polymer-based membranes.


For two years, scientists at Argonne, ISTC and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) of Greater Chicago have been conferring on the problem of removing TrOCs from potable water supplies. Such contaminants consist of hormones, pesticides, prescription medications, personal care products, synthetic industrial chemicals, and chemicals formed during wastewater and drinking-water treatment processes. Even at very low concentrations these molecules can negatively affect aquatic environments and are of concern for human health impacts.


“Modern wastewater treatment plants were not designed to remove such materials, especially at such low concentrations,” said Wei Zheng, a senior research scientist at ISTC.


The search has been ongoing for methods to remove TrOCs including biodegradation, photolysis, volatization, and sorption. “We hope a gold nanoparticle-based membrane approach will improve the sorption efficiency of TrOC removal at low pressure and low energy — at a cost that makes it widely available for home filtration,” he said.


“Deploying new clean energy technologies is an essential part of our nation’s effort to lead in the 21st century economy and in the fight against climate change,” said Lynn Orr, DOE’s Under Secretary for Science and Energy in announcing the grant. DOE’s Technology Commercialization Fund “will help to accelerate the commercialization of cutting-edge energy technologies developed in our national labs, making them more widely available to American consumers and businesses.”

2016 Teacher Workshop on PPCPs in the Environment

collored unlabeled pills spilling from an amber pill bottle ISTC and the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant will be hosting a teacher workshop on pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) in the environment. PPCPs encompass thousands of chemicals found in fragrances, cosmetics, over-the-counter drugs, and human and veterinary medicines. The U.S. EPA has identified PPCPs as emerging contaminants of concern because little is known about their impacts on ecosystems or risks to human health when they are released into the environment.

unlabeled personal care products bottles


If you are a teacher interested in learning more or know of a teacher who might be interested, please visit our PPCPs Teacher Workshop website for more information or to register for the workshop.


Teachers will have the opportunity to earn up to 8 professional development hours and a $100 stipend.


WHEN? One Day: June 15 or 16, 2016, 8 AM to 5 PM


WHERE? Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), 1 E. Hazelwood Drive, Champaign, IL 61820 (Google Maps location of ISTC)


WHO? Illinois and Indiana middle and high school and preservice science teachers can register.


COST? FREE with lunch provided plus a $100 stipend!


DEADLINE? Registration is open now until May 4, 2016, or until full. Registration is LIMITED to 30 participants per day. Don’t delay in registering!


men and women collaborating around a table with papers and charts

Sharma Named Fellow of National Engineering Society

B.K. Sharma
BK Sharma will be honored as a fellow of STLE on May 17, 2016.



B.K. Sharma, senior research engineer at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, has been elected a fellow of the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers (STLE).


Fellows are selected based on their significant impact on the field. Fellows represent outstanding authorities from industry, academia, and government agencies. Six new fellows were named for 2016 and will be honored at the 71st STLE Annual Meeting and Exhibition May 17 in Las Vegas.


Tribology is a multi-disciplinary field concerned with design, friction, wear and lubrication of moving parts. It is a branch of inquiry which spans mechanical engineering, materials science, surface science and others.


Sharma, a chemist by education, has published 87 publications in international journals, five U.S. patents, nine book chapters, and 133 presentations in international and national conferences. Among his research interests is the development of bio-based lubricants and additives for industrial applications.