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Educate > Pollution Prevention > My Project

So what exactly is “P2?”  This is a common question, with a very simple answer.  P2 stands for Pollution Prevention.  It is beating pollution before it starts.  It is getting to the source, and eliminating pollution before it occurs.  More importantly, it is a shift in thinking from reaction to anticipation.  This means that rather than focusing our efforts into things like recycling, and trying to undo the damage, we instead try to anticipate future damages and prevent them from even occurring.

This sounds like it may be a complicated and technical process, and at times it can be.  But it can also be very easy to make a difference.  Simple changes in consumption habits can have a drastic effect on the amount of pollution you create.  For example, by making wise purchasing choices, you can limit the amount of waste you create.  By buying products with less packaging, or reusable packaging, there is less to dispose of.

There are many different types of pollution that all need to be prevented whenever possible.  The three big ones are: air, water, and land pollution.  There are also some other types of pollution that are not as widely known, such as noise and light pollution.  Hopefully you are asking yourself, “What can I do to prevent pollution?”  Actually, there are some very simple, yet effective ways to help prevent pollution.  Some small lifestyle changes can also have a big impact.

Air Pollution

Air pollution is the introduction of chemicals into the atmosphere by means of human causes.  These chemicals can pose a threat to any living organism, and can carry serious health risks, as well as harm the environment.  Air pollutants can also cause smog and visibility problems, especially in large cities.  According to the World Health Organization, over two million people worldwide die each year from air pollution.  That number could easily be cut down if everyone would make some simple changes to their daily lives. 

One of the leading sources of air pollutants are referred to as “mobile pollutants.”  You are probably more familiar with the name “cars.”  Automobiles emit large amounts of chemicals into the air everyday, including carbon monoxide.  There are, however, several ways to cut down on the amount of pollution your car creates.

First, don’t idle.  Engine idling causes unnecessary pollution.  If you are going to wait inside you vehicle for a length of time, turn it off.  Some cities even have laws against engine idling in certain areas.

Second, drive at steady speeds.  Constantly increasing and decreasing your speed also creates unnecessary chemical emissions.  Along with this, it is beneficial to use your air conditioning and heater as sparingly as possible.  Using these features of your car can have a significant impact on your gas mileage, causing your vehicle to be less fuel-efficient.  Keeping your tires properly inflated also contributes to good gas mileage.  Routine maintenance checks and inspections on your automobile are great ways to ensure that you car is running at a level that is safe for the environment.

The best way to make your car environment friendly is to get rid of it.  This could mean one of two things.  First, you could go with a hybrid vehicle instead.  All of the major automobile manufacturers now produce hybrid vehicles that are part electric and part gas engine.  These machines are much more forgiving to the environment than traditional automobiles.
Second, you could find alternate forms of transportation.  Walking and riding bicycle are two great options, because they not only produce no pollution, but provide you with exercise, too.  If these are not realistic for your given situation, carpooling may also be an option.  Find out where your coworkers, classmates, teammates and friends all drive from and organize a carpool system.  The fewer cars on the road, the cleaner the air will be.

For those people who are fortunate enough to live close to their work, riding bicycle is an excellent alternative to driving.  It is important, however, to make sure that you know what you are getting into if you choose to ride to work.  It is recommended that you take a trial-run of your commute at least once on a non-work day.  This way, you know what to expect, in terms of time, route, and your personal conditioning. 

Make sure that you utilize the proper safety gear, such as a helmet, and reflectors and lights in the event that you must ride home at dusk.  Also inquire about a bicycle rack, or area to secure your bike at your place of employment.

While cars are undoubtedly the biggest, and most recognized form of air pollution, there are many other types of smaller air polluters that get frequently overlooked.  Take for instance, lawn mowers.  Chances are you never considered that mowing your yard may be contributing to air pollution. 

Emissions from lawn mowers, snow and leaf blowers, chain saws, and any other power tool that has an engine can become a significant cause of pollution.  Carbon monoxide is a serious problem, and a result of many of today’s small portable engines. 

Other common emissions also include hydrocarbons, or volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and nitrogen oxides.  These chemicals contribute to the formation of ozone.  This may sound confusing, because ozone is naturally created in the upper layers of the Earth’s atmosphere, yet on the ground level ozone can have adverse effects on human health, inhibit plant growth, and contribute to smog.

Of course, there are ways to help limit the amount of pollution you create while using your small engines.  Any gasoline spill causes air pollution, because the spill will evaporate into the atmosphere.  By taking small precautions and being more careful when fueling your engines, it is easy to cut down on the number of accidental spills.

There are gas containers available which are conveniently designed to fit comfortably into your hands, and which also come equipped with spill-proof lids.  If you cannot locate one of these containers, it may be a good idea for you to use a funnel when fueling your lawn mower or leaf blower.

Other tips for maintaining your equipment:

  1. Change oil regularly and as indicated in your owner’s manual.
  2. Clean and, if necessary, replace air filters
  3. Schedule periodic tune-ups
  4. Keep mower blades sharp and efficient
  5. Winter-proof your equipment at the end of each fall season.  This means emptying unused fuel and oil, and cleaning the entire unit.


Water Pollution
Water pollution is the contamination of water bodies such as lakes, rivers and streams due to human activities.  These pollutants are usually chemicals like insecticides or bacteria.  Chemical spills are on of the leading causes of water pollution.  These are not just large industrial spills, but also spills that can occur in residential areas. 

The best thing you can do to prevent water contamination is to avoid discarding unwanted chemicals into water supplies.  This means that you should not pour chemicals down the drain, or into the storm grates on your street.  Routine maintenance checks on your septic system every three to five years also helps to ensure that you and your family are not unknowingly contributing to pollution of groundwater. 

There are also other small habits that can be changed which will help the cause.  For example, it is common for children to wash paintbrushes in the sink.  In reality, this actually deposits chemicals into the water supply.  Rather, you should wash brushes in a bucket of some sort, and dispose of the water elsewhere, perhaps a backyard or field.

In addition, many common shower products also contain chemicals that are harmful to the general water supply.  When choosing these products, read the labels and purchase the ones that say they are environmentally friendly.  Another good idea is to only run dishwashers and washing machines when they have full loads.  It is more efficient to run a few large loads then several small ones. 

Plastics also periodically make their way into the water systems.  Floatable plastics, such as those that are found in many beverage containers and soft drink packaging not only pollute the water, but cause direct harm to the wildlife there.  Fish and animals can become trapped in the plastics and suffocate, and excess materials in the water limit the amount of light that penetrates the surface.

It is important that you discard of your plastics in the proper manner.  In addition, cutting them up into smaller pieces limits the chances of harming wildlife, should they end up in a water supply.

Here are some other helpful tips and ways to prevent pollution of your area’s water supply:           

  1. Use a sink strainer to prevent garbage from going down the drain of your sink
  2. Collect fats and oils in separate containers and dispose of them with the rest of your garbage.  Putting them down the drain can block your pipes and pollute water.
  3. Do not pour poisons down sinks or drains.
  4. Do not pour old motor oil down the drain – a single liter of motor oil can contaminate 9,500 liters of clean water.
  5. Return unwanted medicines to a pharmacy for proper disposal.

Finally, car washing is another source of water pollution that most people overlook.  By washing you car in your driveway or street, you allow the chemicals from the cleaners you use to drain into storm water grates, and into the water system.  It is more beneficial to the environment to go to a local car wash.

The term “storm water” refers to any rain that falls onto roofs, driveways, sidewalks or paths, and collects in these places.  As this water moves over the ground surface, it picks up chemicals that are not naturally found in our water supplies.  After a long dry spell, the first storm water runoff can collect a very large amount of undesirable chemicals and can even come close to the same pollutant amount as raw sewage.

There are some factors which determine the amount of pollution in storm water which are out of human control.  They include:

  1. How long it has been since the last rain
  2. The intensity of the rain
  3. Level of vegetation cover
  4. Amount of space occupied by buildings

Yet there are several factors which we as humans can help to manage:

  1. Overall cleanliness of streets, sidewalks, etc.
  2. Personal habits such as pet control and sweeping.

Storm water pollution, when not prevented, can have negative effects on plants and animals in the water, as well as the overall quality of the water.  Pollution in the water reduces the amount of sunlight that penetrates below the surface, and thereby inhibits the process of photosynthesis which occurs in all plants.

Litter in our water also increases the toxicity of the water during the breakdown of litter.  High levels of toxicity can have adverse health effects on aquatic life, especially fish which are consumed by humans, as well as birds and other animals.

Land Pollution
Land pollution is pollution that causes harm to the Earth’s surface, and is usually caused by human activity.  Industrialization is one of the leading contributors to land pollution, and has been since the Industrial Revolution in America.  Increased waste disposal is also a very large contributor to the land pollution problem.

Landfills are becoming overfilled with waste, and the problem doesn’t seem to have any end in sight.  By cutting down on the amount of garbage we create, we have a direct influence over how much trash ends up at these overflowing landfills.  Once again it comes down to consumption choices. By purchasing products with smaller amounts of packaging, less waste is created.  Buying items in bulk also helps to cut down on the amount of material you purchase in packaging.

Another growing problem in land pollution is litter.  Litter is becoming more and more apparent in large cities as well as on country roads.  Because of the increased consumption of our society, people have much more garbage with them during their daily lives.  It is not uncommon to see bottles, can, and wrappers on the sides of the roads you use every day during your commutes.

Just remember, every little bit helps.  By picking up some trash and disposing of it properly, you help to keep your neighborhood a cleaner place.  Many cities throughout the country have taken some initiative against litter by enforcing fines, and also making public trash bins larger and brighter, so as to be more easily seen. 

There are three steps that people in the environmental world follow when dealing with land pollution.  They are:

  1. Reduce
  2. Reuse
  3. Recycle

By following these simple steps, everyone an make a difference.  First, reduce the amount of materials you use and therefore, dispose of.  Second, reuse materials that are still good enough to do so.  A Large portion of garbage can be eliminated by saving things that were unnecessarily thrown out.  Lastly, recycle.  If you must get rid of it, find the best way to do so.


Noise Pollution
Noise pollution refers to the disruption of human activities or normalcy due to human or machine created sounds.  Typically, these noises come from large industrial machinery, such as construction vehicles and tools, and even aircraft.  However, individuals can play a role in contributing to noise pollution within their neighborhoods.  Loud stereo systems in cars and homes that can be heard by people outside of those places are a large contributor to noise pollution.

Noise pollution does not have as much of a direct impact on humans as other forms of pollution.  Being directly exposed to noise pollution will not necessarily harm a person the way polluted air or water would.  However, prolonged exposure to a noise-polluted environment can have psychological and behavioral effects on individuals.  Hearing loss is the most common problem caused by this type of pollution.  It is also common for stress to occur in people who are constantly exposed to loud or sustained noises in their daily lives, and stress has been cited as a contributing factor to many other medical issues.  It has also been suggested that noise pollution affects animals as well, because they do not prefer to live in a habitat that is affected by noise pollution. 

There have been some steps made to reduce noise pollution.  Lancaster County has not taken much initiative as of yet, but many cities are only just now starting to recognize noise pollution as a legitimate form of pollution.  Many governments still view nose as a nuisance rather than an actual environmental issue.  In Melbourne, Australia, designers created what is called the “sound tube,” which is essentially a cover for some of the heaviest-traveled highways.  The tube helps to block out the sounds from the vehicles so that people living nearby are less affected by the noise.  It may only be a matter of time before we start to see innovations like this in Pennsylvania and even Lancaster County.

Lancaster County does have its own Noise Ordinance, ordinance #381.  This document defines excessive noise as “any loud, unnecessary noise that disrupts the peace and quiet of any unincorporated area or which causes discomfort or annoyance…”  Anyone who has been to a show at the Chameleon Club in Lancaster knows that the featured band for the evening is always forced to finish playing by 10:00 pm.  This is not just because the club owners want to go home, but because Lancaster’s Noise Ordinance prohibits the operating or playing of any sound system, musical instrument, or sound amplifier, including those at places of public entertainment between the hours of 10:00 pm and 8:00 am.  Penalties for those who fail to follow these laws after an initial warning can reach up to $250 and up to thirty days in jail.

Noise pollution is the one of the easiest types of pollution to prevent.  By turning down the volume of stereos, televisions, and any other electronic sound source, you can make your own neighborhood more peaceful.  Also, choosing appropriate times to run equipment such as lawn mowers or power tools is helpful.  No one likes being woken up by the next door neighbor mowing his yard at 8:00 am on Saturday morning!


Light Pollution
Light pollution is also referred to as photopollution or luminous pollution.  Light pollution occurs when excessive light is created and used by humans in a given area.  Similar to noise pollution, this type of pollution is commonly overlooked as a serious environmental issue.  Light pollution is primarily a problem in cities, and not so much in smaller towns. 

People living in cities throughout the country have a much different view of the night sky than do people living the country.  Light pollution obscures the view of the stars, and therefore takes away from the overall beauty of the night sky.
Lancaster City is where the majority of light pollution in Lancaster County occurs, however you can see the effects of light pollution throughout the county.  Certain large gas stations emit enormous amounts of light, and can be seen from miles away.  This is an instance of light pollution.
The health risks of overexposure to light are still being researched, but some experts claim that extended exposure to bright conditions can cause higher levels of stress as well as raised blood pressure.  Again, light pollution is a simple type of pollution to combat – just turn off the lights!  Each evening, turning off lights inside and outside of your home not only helps fight light pollution, it also saves energy and money.

Fluorescent lights are a very good option if you are looking for a more energy efficient light source.  Incandescent light bulbs are cheaper, but fluorescent light bulbs use only one-quarter of the amount of energy, and last ten times longer.


Recycling is typically referred to by those in the environmental community as the last line of defense against pollution.  When pollution is unavoidable, recycling is the next best thing to prevention.  Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority is the County’s leader in recycling efforts.  As part of their integrated waste disposal system, the LCSWMA has created a comprehensive plan to reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills.  Forty-three communities in Lancaster currently have curbside recycling programs, which means that weekly recycling pickup is available to approximately 87% of Lancaster County residents.

Every year, the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority processes over 500,000 tons of solid waste.  Since the implementation of the Authority’s program in 1987, recycling in the county has increased by 37%.

Many people find themselves questioning what can be but into their recycling bin.  Glass bottles of any shape and color, after being thoroughly cleaned, can be recycled.  Types of glass that should not be deposited in bins include light bulbs, auto glass, and household drinking glasses.

Metals are another issue many people face.  Aluminum, steel, and tin cans can all be recycled.  It is necessary to wash these containers prior to disposing of them, however, and it is also requested that you do not crush any of these containers.

Plastic bottles and containers that have recycling numbers 1 or 2 on the bottom  of them can be recycled in your household recycling bin.  Water bottles, milk jugs, and detergent bottles all fall into these categories.  Yogurt and butter containers do not, and should not be disposed of in this manner.

Newspapers can be recycled along with your regular recycling.  It is requested that all newspapers are tied together with biodegradable string, or placed into heavy-duty paper bags.  These papers can be placed on top of, or next to your recycle bin at your curb.  Make sure you do not put your newspapers into plastic bags.  These bags can be taken to your local grocery store to be recycled.


Electronics Recycling
There are also many household items that the majority of people do not realize can be recycled.  Electronics are a large portion of these items.  Computers, televisions, audio equipment, monitors, and cell phones can all be recycled, rather than just discarded or thrown away. 

With technology changing and advancing as rapidly as it is today, much of our electronic and multimedia equipment becomes outdated very quickly.  The average life of a desktop computer is two-three years.  When electronics break down, it is often easier to replace them than repair them due to low costs.  It is important for the public, especially in Pennsylvania, to know that there are options for how to properly dispose of these materials.

You may be asking yourself, “How can my old television really cause harm to the environment?”  The answer is that televisions, computer monitors, and the majority of all electronics use metals that can become hazardous wastes if not properly taken care of.  Some of these substances include cadmium, which can be found in rechargeable batteries; lead, which is prevalent in cathode-ray tube (CRT) monitors; and mercury.

The most effective thing one can do with their electronics is to use them for as long as possible.  Taking good care of your television, laptop, or stereo will obviously extend its life, which in turn means that they will not need to be replaced.  At times, repairs may need to be performed on this equipment, and it is easy to be tempted to just replace rather than repair. 

Shopping smart is also a very good way to limit the amount of electronics waste you create.  Researching your purchases before you make them will help you to make environmentally safe, and informed decisions.  These tactics can be applied to your home as well as your business.

For example, when searching for a new computer, it is not always necessary to purchase a new monitor to go along with the unit.  Monitors can be transferred from machine to machine and have no effect on the overall performance of the computer.  By hanging on to your slightly used monitor, you are not creating unnecessary waste in the form of a computer monitor.

Upgrading your current electronics is also a viable option if you feel you need more speed, more power, or more memory from your gadgets.  Computer slow over time; it is unavoidable.  But by upgrading the RAM, hard drives, and video and sound processors of your machine, you can give it a jolt of energy to help extend its life dramatically. 

If it comes down to the point where you must recycle your electronics, you have several options.  There are many companies and non-profit organizations that are more than happy to collect your old, used, or even dead electronics. Make sure you check out the list of Pennsylvania Electronic Recyclers, to find an establishment near you!


This site was created by Scott Heydt ( who is a student at Millersville University of Pennsylvania

Last updated on February 10, 2008

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