Summaries of Environmental Laws
Administered by the EPA
Congressional Research Service Report  RL30022
Redistributed as a service of the National Library for the Environment

Pollution Prevention Act of 1990

Prepared by Linda Schierow,
Specialist in Environmental Policy, Environmental Protection Section,
Environment and Natural Resources Policy Division.


Selected References
Table 1. Major U.S. Code Sections of the Pollution Prevention Act

The Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 requires the Environmental Protection Agency to establish an Office of Pollution Prevention, develop and coordinate a pollution prevention strategy, and develop source reduction models. In addition to authorizing data collection on pollution prevention, the Act requires owners and operators of manufacturing facilities to report annually on source reduction and recycling activities.


Enactment of the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 marked a turning point in the direction of U.S. environmental protection policy. From an earlier focus on the need to reduce or repair environmental damage by controlling pollutants at the point where they are released to the environment -- i.e., at the "end of the pipe" or smokestack, at the boundary of a polluter's private property, in transit over public highways and waterways, or after disposal -- Congress turned to pollution prevention through reduced generation of pollutants at their point of origin. Broad support for this policy change was based on the notion that traditional approaches to pollution control had achieved progress but should in the future be supplemented with new approaches that might better address cross-media pollution transfers, the need for cost-effective alternatives, and methods of controlling pollution from dispersed or nonpoint sources of pollution. Pollution prevention, also referred to as "source reduction", is viewed as the first step in a hierarchy of options to reduce risks to human health and the environment. Where prevention is not possible or may not be cost-effective, other options would include recycling, followed next by waste treatment according to environmental standards, and as a last resort, safe disposal of waste residues. The law was enacted as Title VI of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990, P.L. 101-508, and is codified as 42 USC 13101-13109.


The Pollution Prevention Act states that it is the policy of the United States that "pollution should be prevented or reduced at the source whenever feasible; pollution that cannot be prevented should be recycled in an environmentally safe manner, whenever feasible; pollution that cannot be prevented or recycled should be treated in an environmentally safe manner whenever feasible; and disposal or other release into the environment should be employed only as a last resort and should be conducted in an environmentally safe manner."

Source reduction is defined as "any practice which--

(i) reduces the amount of any hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant entering any waste stream or otherwise released into the environment (including fugitive emissions) prior to recycling, treatment, or disposal; and

(ii) reduces the hazards to public health and the environment associated with the release of such substances, pollutants, or contaminants."

Source reduction is the preferred strategy for environmental protection because it often: is cost-effective; offers industry substantial savings in reduced raw materials, pollution control costs, and liability costs; reduces risks to workers; and reduces risk to the environment and public health. In 1990, opportunities for source reduction appeared to be plentiful, but often were unrealized or rejected by industries without adequate consideration. The Act was meant to increase interest in source reduction and encourage adoption of cost-effective source reduction practices.

Section 6601 of the Act required EPA to establish an Office of Pollution Prevention. The office was given authority to review and advise EPA program offices to promote a multi-media (i.e., air, land, and water) approach to source reduction.

EPA was directed to develop and implement a detailed and coordinated strategy to promote source reduction, to consider the effect on source reduction of all EPA programs and regulations, and to identify and make recommendations to Congress to eliminate barriers to source reduction. EPA also must conduct workshops and produce and disseminate guidance documents as part of a training program on source reduction opportunities for state and federal enforcement officers of environmental regulations. EPA's strategy, issued in 1991, identifies goals, tasks, target dates, resources required, organizational responsibilities, and criteria to evaluate program progress. In addition, the Act requires EPA to promote source reduction practices in other federal agencies and to identify opportunities to use federal procurement to encourage source reduction.

To facilitate source reduction by industry, EPA is required to develop, test, and disseminate model source reduction auditing procedures to highlight opportunities; to promote research and development of source reduction techniques and processes with broad applicability; to disseminate information about source reduction techniques through a clearinghouse; to establish a program of state matching grants for programs to provide technical assistance to business; and to establish an annual award program to recognize innovative programs.

The Act also includes provisions meant to improve data collection and public access to environmental data. EPA is to develop improved methods of coordinating, streamlining and assuring access to data collected under all federal environmental statutes. An advisory panel of technical experts is established to advise the Administrator on ways to improve collection and dissemination of data.

Owners and operators of many industrial facilities are required to report annually on their releases of toxic chemicals to the environment (under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986, Section 313). The Pollution Prevention Act requires these reports to include information about the facility's efforts in source reduction and recycling. Specifically, reports must include:

All collected information is available to the general public.

Section 6607(c) of the Pollution Prevention Act provides enforcement authority under Title III of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (also known as the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act). Civil, admini-strative, and criminal penalties are authorized for non-compliance with mandatory provisions. Citizens are given the authority to bring civil action for non-compliance against a facility, EPA, a Governor, or a SERC.

The Act requires EPA to file a report on implementation of its Pollution Prevention Strategy biennially.

Authorization for appropriations under the Pollution Prevention Act expired September 30, 1993, but appropriations have continued.

Selected References

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Pollution Prevention. Annual Report of the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics, FY 1995. EPA 745-R-96-005. Washington, D.C., 1996. 64 p.

Table 1. Major U.S. Code Sections of the Pollution Prevention Act
(42 U.S.C. 13101-13109)

42 U.S.C. Section Title Pollution Prevention Act
  Title VI









Findings and Policy


EPA Activities

Grants to States for Tech. Asst.

Source Reduction Clearinghouse

Source Reduction and Recycling Data

EPA Report

Savings Provisions

Auth. of Appropriations

sec. 6602

sec. 6603

sec. 6604

sec. 6605

sec. 6606

sec. 6607

sec. 6608

sec. 6609

sec. 6610

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