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.

ISTC Technical Assistance Program launches new webpages

TAP homepage

The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) has a new web presence. You may now find information on TAP at https://go.illinois.edu/techassist.

TAP makes companies and communities more competitive and resilient with sustainable business practices, technologies, and solutions. TAP works at the intersection of industry, science, and government to help organizations achieve profitable, sustainable results.

The new website makes it easier to find information on TAP programs, services, and projects. Visitors can sign up for free site visits or learn about fee-for-service opportunities to engage our sustainability experts. Any Illinois organization, business, manufacturing facility, institute of higher learning, government entity, public utility, or institution may request one free site visit (per location) at no cost to the facility.

General inquiries may be addressed to istc-info@illinois.edu. You may also reach out to specific TAP team members for assistance in their areas of expertise.

ISTC Sponsored Research Evaluates Acoustic Leak Detection Network

water leak detection sensors in fire hydrants
A technology demonstration in a greater Chicago neighborhood tested acoustic sensors designed to detect water leaks through a network permanently installed in fire hydrants.



ISTC’s  Billion Gallon Water Challenge has released a video of its research collaboration with American Water and Echologics to demonstrate new leak detection technology for residential drinking water distribution systems.


Last year the research partners tested the effectiveness of Echologics’ acoustic sensors (designed to be permanently) placed in fire hydrants in a greater Chicago neighborhood — in a multi-channel wireless network to provide real-time 24/7 leak detection in buried distribution systems and demonstrated accuracy of 90 percent.


one billion gallon water challengeThe technology demonstration was one of ISTC’s Billion Gallon Water Challenge (BGWC) research projects which aimed at saving freshwater resources at multiple levels. A case study on this and other BGWC research is available on ISTC’s website. The technology demonstration was also featured by EfficientGov.com in “Sound Sensors Can Detect Water Pipe Leaks.”


In the BGWC video, Kevin Hillen, Illinois American Water operations superintendent, explains that 12-15 percent of water in the Chicago area is lost to leaks.  As water pipe infrastructure continues to age, a greater proportion of potable water will be lost without proactive leak detection and pipe replacement efforts, he added.


“Leaks have a distinct sound signature,” according to Eric Stacey, Echologics product manager. “Leaks occur in specific frequency bands for different materials of pipe,” he explained. In cast iron pipes, for instance, leaks produce a sound at about 300 Hz. “It’s audible, the human ear can hear it, and it stands out from a normal pipeline operation.”


map of sensor network placement
Networked together, an array of acoustic sensors can pinpoint water leaks as they form.

Economics determines the acceptable level of leakage in a water system. In suburban Chicago, where the cost of water exceeds $5 per 1,000 gallons, the necessity of minimizing leaks is greater than average. At the lower end, water can be delivered in some areas for as little as $0.35 per 1,000 gallons.


The installation successfully zeroed in on leaks forming in the American Water distribution system in a neighborhood near Des Plaines, IL. Correlating the data with specialized algorithms, “we were able to show leaks that formed and we were able to show water savings,” Stacey said.


BGWC research is funded by the Illinois Hazardous Waste Research Fund.

ISTC WatcH2O Program Provides Water Efficiency, Conservation Assistance

WatcH2O word mark

A considerable amount of energy is used to treat and deliver water on a daily basis. Due to the rising cost and impact of that process, ISTC has made a deep commitment to work with organizations in looking for ways to conserve resources and cut costs.


The Technical Assistance Program (TAP) at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) makes companies and communities more competitive and resilient with sustainable business practices, technologies, and solutions. TAP works at the intersection of industry, science and government to help clients achieve profitable, sustainable results. As a change agency, ISTC partners with clients to improve use of water by improving efficiencies in distribution systems, water consumption and wastewater generation.


TAP focused assessment provides a detailed picture of a site’s water use and consumption patterns. Engineers identify industry best practices, provide cost analysis, payback and environmental benefits. TAP has worked with clients across industry sectors to expose solutions to unnecessary water consumption and wastewater generation, often eliminating costly, recurring wastewater treatment facility surcharges or hazardous waste disposal charges.


ISTC’s technical assistance strategic focus areas for its WatcH20 Program include:


Water use assessments and audits

Commercial and Industrial building audits include a  water use assessment and fixture inventory to provide an evaluation that identifies efficiency priorities based on the shortest payback periods. Water usage habits and behaviors are also analyzed with recommendations provided to maximize conservation efforts.


Process specific analysis

ISTC conducts comprehensive analysis of process water including process mapping, metering, data collection, and calculating the full cost of water in the process. Alternative methods can be investigated along with economic analysis of potential changes.


Water purification, reclamation and reduction

ISTC research engineers are skilled at developing and applying the latest technologies to purify and reclaim water and water-based chemistry in a wide variety of industrial and sanitary applications. In addition, ISTC engineers have significant experience with the implementation of conservation technologies (conductivity controls, counter current rinsing, flow restrictors, etc.) for improving water usage.


Implementation strategies

Following thorough data collection and economic analysis, ISTC can construct implementation strategies for efficiency projects that have been ranked as the highest priority. Strategies seek to maximize impact while minimizing disruption.

wastewater treatment plant

WatcH20 can provide comprehensive wastewater evaluation and process recommendations to wastewater treatment plants. Benefits to POTWs include:

  • Reduced influent contaminants and loads
  • Reduced BOD, TSS, FOG, heavy metals, and slug loads
  • Improved wastewater treatment efficiencies
  • Increased plant capacity
  • Increased energy efficiency and energy savings

Recent Success–Health Service

Type of Assistance: Water Use Assessment and Recommendations



  • Collected usage data and created process map
  • Created water balance to match uses with supply
  • Calculated the full cost of processed water
  • Analyzed water efficiency opportunities for equipment upgrades
  • Provided full report with priorities identified including costs, payback periods, and water usage reduction.


For more successes and case studies, visit the ISTC web site. To schedule a free site visit from TAP engineers, go to www.istc.illinois.edu/sitevisit


Become an Environmental Champion


Apply for the Illinois Governor’s Sustainability Award Program

Illinois sustainability champions have been recognized every year since 1987 through the Illinois Governor’s Sustainability Awards (IGSA). [In earlier years called the Illinois Governor’s Pollution Preventions Awards]


the illinois governor's sustainability award trophy

Applications are now open for the 2016 IGSA, the nation’s longest standing state environmental award program, through which companies, municipalities, and organizations are acknowledged for their efforts for minimizing their environmental impact and having positive economic and societal consequences for their sustainability actions. The award program is a service of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


Public and private Illinois organizations statewide are implementing strategies to save money and resources by eliminating wasted energy, water, and material in their manufacturing and other activities. The Illinois Governor’s Sustainability Award is an opportunity to be recognized as a leader in your sector for environmental efficiency and sustainable leadership.


Four recent winners show how they did it in an on-line video profiling Nestle Inc. Jacksonville, Ill; the City of Galena, Ill; a small business, beelove of Chicago; and the City of Arcola.


Applications are available on the IGSA website: http://www.istc.illinois.edu/info/govs_awards.cfm. They will be accepted until 5 p.m. Friday, May 20.  Please visit our website, as there are many resources to assist in developing your application, such as case studies, sample applications. Among last year’s winners were Cook County, the Shedd Aquarium, AbbVie Inc., Saratoga Food Specialties, and Western Illinois University. Sponsorship opportunities for the awards ceremony are also available: questions can be referred to istc-govsawards@illinois.edu.


The 2016 Awards Ceremony will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 1, at the Union League Club of Chicago, 65 West Jackson Blvd., Chicago.