How a competitor's data can help your company cut pollution
Companies looking for ways to reduce pollution need look no further than the Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Program has been collecting and distributing information about pollution prevention (P2) activities implemented at industrial facilities since the early 1990s.
Recently, the TRI Program has improved the quality, accessibility and usefulness of its P2 data. For example, the data includes information on green chemistry and barriers to implementing P2. Additionally, EPA has made it easy to view P2 trends and specific activities performed by facilities by providing the TRI Pollution Prevention Search Tool.
Anyone can use this tool to analyze P2 data for facilities or parent companies. By comparing facilities across a sector or between parent companies, you can see who is leading the way in implementing meaningful P2 activities. You can also find opportunities to reduce reliance on toxic chemicals by adopting successful activities initiated at other facilities.
The Toxics Release Inventory is an information disclosure program designed to get important environmental information to the public. Making this information accessible enables the public to assess the environmental performance of facilities and companies.
TRI data is unique in that it brings together information on air, water, land and pollution prevention activities in one place. Facilities from sectors such as chemical manufacturing, food processing, electric utilities and refineries report data to TRI.
About 22,000 facilities submitting data for 2014. This reported data includes release and other waste management information on more than 660 chemicals and chemical categories, covering over 5,000 individual chemicals in all.
Examples of TRI’s P2 information:
- How many and what type of pollution prevention activities facilities have implemented: For example, the transportation equipment industry reported 108 new process modification activities and 37 spill and leak prevention activities in 2014.
- How facilities implemented these activities: Facilities report whether they identified the pollution prevention opportunity through vendor assistance, materials balance audits, trade associations or other means. Facilities also can report details about specific pollution prevention activities. One aircraft manufacturer reported achieving spill and leak prevention by replacing some of its tetrachloroethylene degreasing practices with an alkaline cleaning process.
- What barriers facilities face when implementing pollution prevention: The most commonly reported barrier for TRI facilities is that there is no known substitute chemical or alternative technology that would not require use of the particular toxic chemical. It is possible that facilities reporting this barrier could learn from other facilities through TRI data.
- How facilities are managing waste over time: For example, is the waste being recycled, treated, burned for energy recovery or released into the environment? Has the amount of waste decreased since the facility implemented a specific pollution prevention activity? If so, by how much?
Putting data to work
Companies can use TRI data many ways to make decisions about pollution prevention.
First, companies can use TRI to learn about reducing the use or release of chemicals from their industrial peers. For example, a fabricated metal manufacturer has several facilities that use trichloroethylene (TCE) as a solvent in vapor degreasers and would like to reduce its use of it.
By using the TRI P2 Search Tool to limit the data to just facilities that use TCE in the fabricated metal sector, the company quickly could identify about 262 entries from facilities that already have implemented pollution prevention activities since 2001. The company also would find details from facilities such as the Schick Manufacturing facility in Verona, Virginia, which reported reducing its use of TCE by changing to an aqueous cleaner.
Companies also can use TRI data to compare environmental performance across their own facilities. The search tool allows companies to filter facility data by parent company and compare facilities’ management of toxic chemicals in waste. For example, a company can see if one of its facilities has been recycling a chemical in its waste to a greater extent than other facilities.
The tool’s facility comparison view also shows which facilities reported P2 activities and which face barriers to implementing such activities. This information can reveal difficulties faced by an industry. It also can demonstrate how other facilities managed to overcome barriers to implementing P2 practices. This view is available by clicking the "Compare Facilities for Selected Company" option after selecting a parent company.
The TRI P2 tool also can be used to filter TRI data by parent company and compare facilities’ management of toxic chemicals in waste.
Finally, companies can use TRI data to see how they compare with their industrial peers by using the search tool to filter the data by the industry and chemical of interest, then selecting the "Display Parent Company Comparison" option. For example, a food manufacturing company wants to compare how it manages nitrate compounds to others in its industry.
By following the steps outlined above, their search would yield results showing parent companies that manage nitrate compounds, sorted by the volume of the chemicals managed. It also would show how nitrate compounds were managed (treated or released) and which companies reported P2 activities. The user can click on the parent company name to find out more about the activities.
There are several ways to access TRI’s P2 data. The search tool allows users to tailor search results to their interests, such as a specific chemical or sector.
Each year, the EPA also publishes the TRI National Analysis report, which includes a section focusing on P2 data. It highlights waste management trends over time, information on reported source reduction activities, barriers to implementing P2, plus the top parent companies based on quantity of waste managed and number of source reduction activities reported.
In 2014, 2,732 TRI facilities reported initiating 8,388 source reduction activities. The 2014 TRI National Analysis is available and features data from 2003 to 2014.
Companies can get more information about P2 data online, or by watching a recent video focused on the importance of pollution prevention and reporting data. Send an email or find state contacts through our online map.