About EPA

Land and Emergency Response Innovations

The Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM) Innovations Program sponsored more than 100 projects in the areas of land cleanup and emergency management over 11 years.  The program provided seed money for policy and program ideas with high risk, high reward outcomes.  This web area describes the competition, a guide EPA developed with lessons learned from the program, and summaries of major accomplishments of the program. 

The Competition

In 2002, EPA began a grant competition to promote innovative ideas in the areas of land cleanup and emergency management. The competition was overseen by the Innovations Work Group (IWG), comprised of EPA innovators across the nation. In what became an annual competition, the IWG funded four to 12 innovative projects each year. The program originally supported projects through grant funding; starting in 2008, the IWG offered contractor funds to program staff to more directly explore and pilot ideas that addressed OLEM’s priority areas. Projects were selected based on their potential for broader application across sectors, industries, and geographic areas, and impact on environmental policy. Although the program competition is no longer funded, project work still remains.

Top of Page

Creating an Innovative Workplace in EPA: A Manager’s GuideCreating an Innovative Workplace in EPA: A Manager’s Guide

Creating an Innovative Workplace at EPA: A Manager’s Guide

The challenge at EPA is to find creative solutions to our toughest environmental challenges. How do we keep pushing environmental policy forward in new, creative, and sustainable ways? This document synthesizes OLEM’s insights from running an innovations program for over 10 years.

One of the most important insights from the program is that innovation is about finding and implementing ideas, and the best ideas come from an innovative workplace. An innovative workplace encourages people to articulate creative, ambitious ideas and try out the best ones.

Top of Page

Top Innovations Competition Results

Tribal Community-Based Social Marketing Demonstration Project

Sponsor:  EPA Region 5  Fiscal Year:  2013

Demonstrated a tribal approach to community-based social marketing (CBSM) to develop positive behavior strategies and provide a culturally appropriate CBSM model for tribes. Developed a Tribal CBSM Training Guide to encourage other tribes to use CBSM approaches to promote positive environmental behaviors.

  • Additional information on the project

    Challenge:  Tribes are in continual need of building their waste management program capacity in order to sustainably manage materials effectively. Community-based social marketing (CBSM) is a methodology that addresses barriers to positive behaviors by using marketing techniques carried out at the community level. The CBSM methodology can help advance a tribe’s waste management or sustainability goals, but what has been lacking are examples of tribes practicing the CBSM methodology and culturally appropriate CBSM models for tribes to help develop this capacity.

    Opportunity:  To demonstrate a tribal approach to community-based social marketing, and develop a culturally appropriate CBSM training guide tailored for tribal communities.

    Approach:  Region 5 provided funding and contractor assistance to the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa who worked with its tribal college on this project. This project demonstrated a thorough approach to CBSM to develop positive behavior strategies and provide a culturally appropriate CBSM model for tribes. The demonstration project focused on increasing recycling behavior at the Band’s community college. The Band conducted research to identify barriers, implemented a pilot project using specific CBSM techniques, and measured the results. Particularly, the Band found through its research that the majority of students supported the idea of recycling, but the barrier was not enough recycling bins to remind them to recycle. With student input, the Band used the CBSM “prompt,” “communication,” and “convenience” strategy tools to design strategic signage and placement of recycling bins.  Results from the pilot showed a 41% overall increase in the recycling rate at major locations throughout the campus. The Band worked with Region 5 and contractor support to put together a Tribal CBSM Training Guide, based on the lessons learned from the pilot to encourage other tribes to use CBSM to increase sustainable behaviors.

    Project Updates:  The Tribal CBSM Training Guide is being peer reviewed by CBSM experts. The training guide will also include a specific tribal recycling CBSM toolkit based on the CBSM strategy tools used in the Band’s pilot project. This toolkit will provide other tribes with customizable CBSM components and strategy tools to increase recycling behaviors in their own communities.

    Additional Resources: 

    Tribal CBSM training guide will be published shortly.

Top of Page

Managing and Transforming Waste Streams:  A Tool for Communities

Sponsors: Regions 1, 4, 5 and 9 Fiscal Year:  2012

To support local government efforts to reduce waste and greenhouse gas emissions, Managing and Transforming Waste Streams:  A Tool for Communities highlights actions local governments can take across waste generation sectors to move communities toward higher levels of waste reduction, materials reuse, recycling and composting.  It features over 240 implementation examples from communities, numerous online resources, and model contracts and franchise agreements. A sortable, filterable table of 100 policies and programs was also developed to support local government solid waste plans or zero waste plan development, adoption and implementation. 

  • Additional information on the project

    Challenge:  Local governments are on the front lines of managing and implementing new approaches to reduce solid waste.  Local governments have made variable advances in diverting materials from landfills and incinerators in their communities, with some achieving high diversion, e.g., over 70%, while others have diversion rates well below the national average of 34%.  Innovative approaches to increasing diversion have come from communities in different areas of the U.S. with different demographics and characteristics.  However, with over 89,000 local governments, it can difficult for local governments to learn about effective, replicable policies and programs.

    Opportunity:  As communities update their solid waste plans or consider adopting a zero waste plan, opportunities to adopt new or expanded measures to reduce solid waste exist.  The federal government, unlike state or local government, is in a position to collect and share effective programs and policies from across the nation.  EPA has connections to communities that have been leaders in setting innovative strategies and policies for reducing their waste streams, and can compile and share this information with communities nationally.  Helping local governments move towards higher levels of materials reuse and recovery is an important national strategy to address climate change and sustainable materials management.

    Approach:  The policies and practices were developed by a team of expert zero waste consultants and local solid waste program managers, with contributions from multiple EPA offices.  This tool equips cities, counties, regional agencies, and other interested parties with a compendium of best practices and implementation models from local government leaders across the country. 

    In exploring up to 100 policies and programs (available in both a web or spreadsheet version), municipalities can use the tool's interactive features to generate a list of measures for inclusion in a planning document tailored to their community's needs and materials management priorities.  Over 240 implementation examples from communities and numerous resource links are featured, and the tool includes links to actual ordinance, contract, and franchise agreement language adopted by cities or counties that has proven effective.

    The tool encompasses different approaches local governments can take to meet materials recovery goals, including ways to support infrastructure development and community outreach, and illustrates opportunities for phasing in incrementally more stringent measures over time.  Thus, it can be useful to communities just getting started, as well as communities with existing programs in place that are interested in improving materials recovery rates.

    Project Updates: In 2015, the U.S. Conference of Mayors adopted a Resolution In Support of Municipal Zero Waste Principles and a Hierarchy of Materials Management. The resolution specifically calls upon federal and state governments to recognize the rights of local governments to enact ordinances that support strategies to reduce waste in their local communities, as part of a comprehensive zero waste strategy.  This project provides a collection of models that local governments can use to support local waste reduction, reuse, and recovery strategies. 

    Additional community implementation examples and online resources are being added to the tool over time, as brought to EPA's attention.

    Additional Information:

Top of Page

The Tribal Green Building Toolkit

Sponsor: EPA Region 9 Fiscal Year: 2012

Builds on the Sustainable Design and Green Building Toolkit for local governments and is designed to assist tribes to prioritize and implement healthy, green building policies and practices. The Tribal Green Building Toolkit supports the integration of tribal ecological knowledge and priorities into building codes and practices.

  • Additional information on the project 

    Challenge: Native Americans are the first green architects and builders of the Americas. Traditional Native American building designs and practices are sustainable. Native American designs are often based on cultural values informed by many things including an intimate knowledge of place, its climate and resources and technology. Traditionally, tribes built structures from local resources and without written codes. These structures were safe, healthy and energy and water efficient.

    Despite tribes’ early and long history of sustainable building practices, modern tribal buildings often do not incorporate many green building practices. Unsustainable building practices can have unintended social and economic consequences, including degraded local air quality, loss of open space and health impacts due to decreased physical activity and lack of access to healthy food.

    Opportunity: To help tribal officials, community members, planners, developers and architects develop and adopt building codes to support green building practices.

    Project Updates: This Toolkit is intended to support a tribe’s decision-making process in determining whether to adopt, adapt or develop green building codes. Completing the Assessment portion of the Toolkit will assist a tribe in outlining code development priorities.

Top of Page

Catalyzing Composting in Urban Communities

Sponsor: EPA Region 1 Fiscal Year: 2010

Developed the Food Scrap Recycling: A Primer for Understanding Large-Scale Food Scrap Recycling Technologies for Urban Areas document to help municipalities implement large-scale food scrap recycling programs in their communities. A number of New England states are using the guide to expand their composting infrastructure.

  • Additional information on the project 

    Challenge: Large-scale food scrap recycling is attractive because it would reduce waste disposal and create nutrient-rich compost for landscaping and gardening. Identifying the ideal recycling method for a community, however, can be complex given the available composting technologies and inherent tradeoffs of regulation, efficiency and environmental outcomes.

    Opportunity: To facilitate the decision making process, communities needed a guide that laid out all of the potential key considerations for implementing large-scale food scrap recycling.

    Approach: EPA partnered with two cities to pilot different approaches and to develop the guide: Bridgeport, Connecticut and Providence, Rhode Island. EPA held conference calls and meetings with relevant stakeholders from both cities to determine their individual composting needs and the challenges they were facing. Project partners conducted additional research related to existing composting technology systems—specifically aerobic windrow composting, in-vessel aerobic composting and anaerobic digestion. Based on the research and stakeholder input, project partners developed Food Scrap Recycling: A Primer for Understanding Large-Scale Food Scrap Recycling Technologies for Urban Areas (PDF) (43 pp, 1.3MB) a food scrap recycling guide geared towards municipalities interested in implementing large-scale food scrap recycling in their communities.

    Project Updates: EPA has been promoting the primer to its state and community partners in an effort to educate them on the benefits of removing food scraps from the traditional waste stream and the different food recycling technologies available. A number of New England states are considering how to expand their composting infrastructure.

    Additional Information:

Top of Page

Reducing Wasted Food & Packaging Toolkit

Sponsor: EPA Region 9 Fiscal Year: 2010

Reducing Food Waste Packaging ToolkitReducing Wasted Food & Packaging Guide

This free toolkit includes the Reducing Wasted Food & Packaging: A Guide for Food Services and Restaurants and a EPA's Food and Packaging Waste Prevention Tool to help food service facilities – such as restaurants, stadiums and hospitals - identify and implement opportunities to reduce food and packaging waste to save money and reduce environmental impacts. Entering facility data into the programmed spreadsheet tool reveals what, how much, and why food is being wasted. The example bar graph below was automatically generated by entering weekly data into the spreadsheet tool.

  • Additional information on the project

    Kitchen Food Waste Chart: Pounds of Food Waste by TypeSample bar graph automatically generated by entering tracking data into EPA’s Food and Packaging Waste Measurement Tool (XSLM) ( 892 K)Challenge: Food represents the largest portion of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream, representing 21 percent of the materials thrown away in the U.S. We throw away about 35 million tons/year – or about 1/3 of all we harvest and buy - into landfills and incinerators. Half of our nation’s land use goes to producing food, along with 80% of our fresh water consumption, and 10% of our energy use. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas with over 25 times the global warming impact as CO2 and wasted food is a main contributor to the roughly 18% of total U.S. methane emissions that come from landfills. Only about 5% of food scraps are being recovered for composting.
    Opportunity: Preventing food waste, also called source reduction, is the preferred environmental and economic approach to reducing food waste. It reduces all of the environmental impacts of wasted food and can directly reduce value of food loss and waste totals in the U.S., worth $161 billion dollars in 2010 alone.
    Approach: A free, user-friendly guide and customizable spreadsheet tool were developed to make it easy for food services to see what is being wasted. Understanding what is causing waste is key. For example, knowing whether food waste is primarily associated with spoilage, improper cooking, or excess trimming raises awareness of how food waste can be reduced.
    Project Updates: In 2015, EPA and USDA announced the United States’ first-ever national food loss and waste goal, calling for a 50-percent reduction by 2030. The toolkit has been featured on EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management Web Academy to provide users with step-by-step guidance to completing a waste assessment and taking action to reduce food and packaging waste based on the assessment results. The webinar series was recorded and can be found below.

    Additional Information:

Top of Page

Superfund NPL Landfill Methane-to-Energy Project

Sponsor: EPA Region 5 Fiscal Year: 2010

Evaluated the feasibility of using a solar membrane on a 1-acre portion of a 50-acre landfill in Illinois, and used a modified micro-turbine to harness methane emissions for powering onsite gas and leachate collection systems.

  • Additional information on the project 

    Challenge: An estimated 17 percent of total human-related methane emissions in the United States come from the decomposition of landfill waste. EPA had some success in working with active landfills to recover methane through the Landfill Methane Outreach Program. However, EPA had not explored recovering methane from legacy Superfund landfills. EPA staff recognized this as an opportunity to recover landfill methane and to use the energy to fuel ground water remediation.

    Opportunity: This ambitious Green Remediation project needed a systematic way of evaluating the potential from existing Superfund landfill projects and a way of working with responsible parties to implement recovery where it made sense.


Top of Page

Automobiles and Parts Stewardship

Sponsor: EPA Region 10 Fiscal Year: 2009

Created a roadmap and incentives to address the lifecycle material and toxicity impacts of vehicle waste on the environment, and remove vehicle waste streams from landfills. The roadmap and incentives are now used by states across the country.

  • Additional information on the project 

    Challenge: EPA staff worked aggressively with industry, non-profits, states, and other EPA offices to develop an assessment of waste generated by vehicle manufacturing, transport, use, and end-of-life processing. Environmental policy on automobiles tends to focus on emissions and fuel efficiency rather than considering the impacts and issues across the entire automobile lifecycle.

    Opportunity: EPA collaborated with government partners (federal, state, and local) and stakeholders to identify opportunities in design, manufacturing, purchasing, use, repair, and end-of-life.


    • Held 20 listening sessions with nearly 100 stakeholders to identify issues and opportunities to reduce material and toxicity impacts of the automobile lifecycle.
    • EPA organized Roadmap for Change (PDF) (22 pp, 231K).
    • EPA Region 10 and the Washington Department of Ecology are collaborating on phase two of the project to consider the implementation of identified incentives that could help address the end-of-life management of automobiles.

Top of Page

Sustainable Design and Green Building Toolkit for Local Governments

Sponsor: EPA Region 4 Fiscal Year: 2008

Developed the first cross-media (i.e., air, water, land and materials) Sustainable Design and Green Building Toolkit that helps local governments comprehensively assess and adjust their ordinances by environmental objective to reflect local sustainability priorities. The Toolkit was converted into an interactive website that allows users to complete the assessment online, link to relevant resources, and generate results reports for elected officials.

  • Additional information on the project 

    Challenge: It should be easier, not harder, for green buildings to meet code and ordinance requirements and receive permits. And yet, green builders find themselves having to prove that the innovative approaches they utilize are equivalent to or better than standard construction practices. Obtaining variances to local codes and ordinances requires more time, work and money than constructing buildings that are not green but easily conform to the permitting process. For example, using reclaimed lumber can be problematic to approve because it is not structurally rated and tested as a manufactured material. Along with financing green building technologies, this obstacle has been identified by the development community, architects, engineers, academia and even municipalities as a primary reason why more developers have not adopted green building practices.

    Opportunity: EPA developed the first cross-media (i.e., air, water, land and materials) Sustainable Design and Green Building Toolkit that helps local governments comprehensively assess and adjust their ordinances by environmental objective to better reflect local sustainability priorities. It also supplies a framework for making local regulatory changes, making it easier for developers to undertake green building projects.

    Approach: Representatives from the City of Roswell, GA piloted the draft versions of the Toolkit and gave critical input into the development of the final Toolkit. The final version was published in June 2010 and includes an assessment tool, a resource guide, an action plan for implementing the necessary regulatory and permitting changes, and an interactive Excel spreadsheet version of the assessment tool.

    Project Updates: In Spring/Summer 2011, the Toolkit will be beta-tested with additional communities from across the U.S. to fill in any evaluation gaps. Through 2010 OSWER Innovation funds, the Toolkit will be converted into an interactive website that allows users to complete the assessment online, link to relevant resources, and generate results reports for elected officials. The Toolkit has also spurred additional and complementary work, including a 2011 project conducted by the Southeast Smart Growth Network via grant funding from Region 4’s RCRA Division and Office of Pollution Prevention and Innovation. The Network Partners will use the assessment portion to analyze local government green building ordinances and incentive programs in five southeastern states: Tennessee, Georgia, North and South Carolina and Florida.

    Additional Information:

Top of Page

Improving Management of Household Prescription Medication Waste

Sponsor: EPA Region 1 Fiscal Year: 2004

Developed best management practices for collection and safe disposal programs for household prescription-medication waste (HPW), bulk compounding chemicals, and plastic medication containers. Several U.S. cities have established their own prescription drug collection programs. On a larger scale, a collaboration involving the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the American Pharmacists Association and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America led to the “SMARxT Disposal” campaign, which educates consumers about how to dispose of medicines in a safe and environmentally protective manner.

  • Additional information on the project 

    Challenge: Household prescription medication waste (HPW) has emerged as a significant environmental concern, primarily as a result of water pollution concerns from the disposal of prescription medication in the municipal solid waste stream. Discarded prescription medication waste (e.g., antibiotics, antidepressants, tranquilizers, estrogen) presents a threat within the MSW stream because of its toxic and hazardous constituents, as well as its potential for becoming a source for illegal distribution and use. In addition, many prescription medications are dispensed in plastic containers that are ultimately disposed.

    Opportunity: To recycle millions of plastic prescription vials, stock bottles, and liquids bottles that are used by pharmacies each month to significantly increase energy conservation and greenhouse gas savings.

    Approach: NERC, in conjunction with EPA New England and 11 other public and private cooperative partners developed and implemented a pilot collection program for HPW and bulk compounding chemicals in 2004. Pilot activities included the creation of a guidance document detailing collection methods for these hazardous wastes and best management practices (BMPs) for plastic medication container disposal.

    Project Updates: The pilot organized a one-day event for collecting and properly disposing of prescription drugs, during which 52 people from 17 Maine communities brought in more than 700 containers of medicine totaling approximately 50 gallons in volume. This included almost 1,300 medications classified as controlled substances, with an estimated street value of more than $5,000. The list of substances collected included antibiotics, antidepressants, anti-cancer drugs, tranquilizers and estrogen.

    Building upon the practices created through this pilot program, some U.S. cities have established their own prescription drug collection programs. The City of Mesa, Arizona holds Hazardous Waste Collection Events where residents can dispose of unwanted prescription drugs; and the Santa Clara County, California Department of Environmental Health oversees a Prescription Drugs Disposal Program that allows residents to drop off HPW for safe disposal. On a larger scale, a collaboration involving the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the American Pharmacists Association and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America led to the creation of the “SMARXT Disposal” campaign, which educates consumers about how to dispose of medicines in a safe and environmentally protective manner.

    Additional Information:

Top of Page

Measuring the Environmental Benefits Of Federal Electronic Equipment Management Practices

Sponsor: EPA Region 10 Fiscal Year: 2004

Developed tools to demonstrate the environmental and economic benefits of the Federal Electronic Challenge (FEC), a voluntary program designed to encourage federal facilities and agencies to purchase greener electronic products, reduce environmental impacts during use, and manage obsolete electronics.

  • Additional information on the project 

    Challenge: In 2004, the U.S. Federal government was the largest procurer of consumer electronics in America. With 1.8 million employees, the federal sector represented seven percent of the world market for computers, and its budget for Information Technology (IT) products and services topped $50 billion in 2004. The average life cycle for a federally owned computer was three years, and new computers were often purchased without a management plan to deal with the equipment being replaced. One study estimated that up to 10,000 federally owned computers could be deemed excess or surplus each week. The computer equipment and other electronics contain parts that could be recycled, reclaimed and/or reused in the marketplace. Due to budgetary pressures to demonstrate program worth, it was critical that the FEC and similar voluntary initiatives demonstrate positive results.

    Opportunity: The FEC pilot phase committee was scheduled to launch the national rollout of the FEC program in October 2004. In order to sustain and expand the program to include federal facilities and agencies nationwide, the development of an assessment tool was needed to translate the successes of the program into quantifiable environmental and economic benefits.

    Approach: In partnership with the General Services Administration, Department of Defense, Office of the Federal Executive, and the Federal Network for Sustainability, the University of Tennessee developed an assessment tool to measure the environmental benefits of the sound management of electronic assets through the FEC. Over a one-year period, Pilot partners worked with approximately 20 federal facilities to develop the FEC assessment tool. As part of the development phase, partners evaluated existing calculators (e.g., EPA’s Waste Reduction Model (WARM)), determined how to incorporate electronic equipment into one of the existing models, and identified the information necessary to develop the appropriate measures. Information from the FEC pilot’s final reports such as material recovery and disposal data were entered into the draft assessment tool. Pilot partners evaluated the results and made adjustments to the tool, resulting in the development of the Electronics Environmental Benefits Calculator (EEBC).

    Project Updates: The EEBC was publicly released in 2007 and is used by FEC agency and federal facility partners to quantify the overall benefits of FEC programs by demonstrating the aggregated environmental benefits resulting from the purchase, use, and end-of-life management (reuse or recycling) of electronic equipment. To use the EEBC, a purchaser simply enters the number of electronic products purchased, and it calculates and provides a breakdown of environmental benefits including savings in the following: energy use; virgin material use (increase in recycled materials); CO2/greenhouse gas emissions; air emissions; water emissions; toxic materials; municipal solid waste generation; hazardous waste generation; and cost, where feasible.

    The EEBC went through several iterations (version 1.0 in 2006, version 1.1 in 2007) prior to the current 2.0 version funded by U.S. EPA grants. The current version evaluates electronics stewardship activities associated with desktop processors, cathode ray tube and liquid crystal display monitors, and notebook computers. Additionally, the current version of the EEBC evaluates the benefits of reusing and recycling mobile telephones, and recycling mixed loads of electronics.

    The EEBC has become the official reporting tool used by FEC partners, which includes 18 registered agencies and 240 registered federal facility partners, representing 748,410 federal employees as of December 31, 2009. Plans are underway to convert the environmental benefits calculator to a Web-based tool in 2011.

Top of Page

Greening Industrial Design

Sponsor: EPA Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery Fiscal Year: 2003

Developed a tool to educate industrial designers about the principles of ecological design and innovation. This project conducted workshops, targeted outreach, and developed a website to improve awareness among engineers and designers of methods for reducing environmental impacts.

  • For additional information on the project 

    Challenge: The industrial design profession holds tremendous untapped potential for improving the environmental performance of a range of manufactured products and creating opportunities for pollution prevention, energy savings, waste minimization and other benefits. An estimated 75 percent of the product’s environmental impact throughout its lifecycle originates in the design stage when industrial designers, working in conjunction with manufacturers, retailers, users and disposers, formulate a product’s use, materials, production processes, and disposal. This is also the stage when coatings, dyes and additives are selected, when packaging is chosen—all of which determine how much energy, water or other consumables a product will use, and if it is capable of being recycled, remanufactured or reused.

    Opportunity: Despite being integral to this process, industrial designers have received little or no training in how to design products and packaging made with less toxic or recycled materials that can be easily reused, repaired or recycled. Moreover, the vast majority of industrial design students enrolled in this country’s estimated 55 design schools receive no training in this critical area.

    Approach: The Design Foundation; J. Ottman Consulting, a nationally recognized green marketing firm and EPA developed an eco-design education curriculum called, Design: Green—A Fresh Approach to Better Business and Design, which illustrated opportunities to sustainably design products to reduce environmental impacts during their life cycle. Project partners collaborated with various industry representatives, U.S. design schools with green curricula, and the U.S.-based chapters of O2, the global network of ecologically aware designers, to gain insight and input for developing the project’s eco-design curriculum through a series of workshops held across the U.S.

    Project Updates: In spring 2004, Design: Green workshops were held in four cities: New York, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Pasadena. These groundbreaking workshops, demonstrated how a proactive approach to “eco-design” can be a catalyst for innovation, sustainable profits and a competitive advantage. The workshops represented one of the first opportunities for designers across the country to learn firsthand from recognized eco-design experts and innovators how to use these tools and build networks for continued education about these topics.

    Following the workshops, an eco-design resource guide for U.S.-based industrial designers was created and distributed to workshop attendees. IDSA created an EcoDesign Web site to further promote eco-design education with resources from the workshops available for download. IDSA also distributed workshop materials at their annual conference in October 2004.

    The year after this project ended, the EcoDesign category was added to IDSA’s International Design Excellence Awards program. This awards program has become the premier international competition honoring design excellence in products, eco-design, packaging, strategy, research and concepts. Entries are invited from designers, students and companies worldwide. Winning entries receive coverage in hundreds of print and broadcast media networks around the world, including BusinessWeek’s online edition. The latest round of awards was announced in July 2009.

Top of Page

Paint Product Stewardship

Sponsor: EPA Region 9 Fiscal Year: 2003

Developed a nationally coordinated system for reducing, reusing, recycling and/or properly disposing of leftover paint—an approach that could be applied to a number of other household hazardous wastes and consumer products. The system is being used by nearly a dozen states, with the ultimate goal of national implementation.

  • For additional information on the project 

    Challenge: In 2003, it was estimated that more than 350 million gallons of leftover paint were generated each year in the U.S. At that time, leftover paint was the largest volume material collected by most household hazardous waste (HHW) collection programs and represented a high cost for state and local governments to manage. State and local agencies have turned to product manufacturers, retailers, and other potential partners to become part of the solution by practicing product stewardship. Product stewardship is a principle that directs all participants involved in the product lifecycle to share responsibility for reducing the human health and environmental impacts of a product.

    Opportunity: To develop leftover paint management solutions that are both financially and environmentally sustainable.

    Approach: U.S. EPA Region 9, in partnership with the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI), facilitated a national paint stewardship dialogue, reaching agreement among government officials, manufacturers, retailers, painting contractors, and other participants on how to reduce paint waste; efficiently collect, reuse, and recycle leftover paint; increase markets for recycled paint (including non-paint products); and develop a sustainable financing system to cover any resulting end-of-life management costs for past and future products.

    Project Updates: More than 55 dialogue participants—comprised of manufacturers, contractors, recyclers, retailers, local and state governments, EPA, and industry associations—participated in the national dialogue aimed at reducing the generation of leftover paint, while increasing reuse and recycling opportunities. Forty of these participants were interviewed and from the interviews, two documents were developed: a background technical document—reported by many participants to be the best single source of information related to leftover paint—and a Paint Product Stewardship Action Plan, which guided the dialogue phase of the project. The pilot-facilitated national dialogue also resulted in the first Paint MOU, which was signed or endorsed by over 60 participants including EPA, state and local agencies, paint manufacturers, retailers, and recyclers.

    In July 2009, the Governor of Oregon signed the Oregon Paint Stewardship Program into law, which requires paint manufacturers to collect, transport and safely manage leftover latex and oil-based paint in an environmentally sound and cost-effective manner. This was the first time paint producer responsibility legislation was passed at the state level in the U.S. Oregon’s paint stewardship law, which will be in effect on July 1, 2010, is expected to save local governments approximately $6 million in either direct costs or additional paint management services. Funding for the program will be generated from a recovery fee applied to the purchase price of each unit of paint sold in Oregon. PaintCare, a nonprofit organization and project partner, will set up and run the statewide program enabling many residents in Oregon who currently do not have access to a program to more easily return, reuse and recycle left-over paint.

    Following the completion of the demonstration program in Oregon and a detailed evaluation, the system will be rolled out to a number of additional states (e.g., Connecticut, Vermont, California, Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Washington) over the next few years, with the ultimate goal of national implementation.

Top of Page

Sustainable Transit Leadership

Sponsor: EPA Region 9 Fiscal Year: 2002

Using experience from greening the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), one of the largest light rail transit agencies in the United States, created green building and greenhouse gas reduction sustainability practices for transit stations and facilities to help reduce waste, conserve energy, reduce criteria pollutants, develop public recycling areas, incorporate recycled-content building materials, and expand public transit ridership. These practices are now used by transit agencies across the country.

  • Additional information on the project

    Challenge: Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) is one of the largest light rail transit agencies in the United States, consisting of 104 miles of track and owns and operates 43 stations and a variety of other facilities (e.g., parking garages, maintenance facilities). Each year, BART spends roughly $1 billion on new construction, renovations and maintenance, which could be reduced with the implementation of sustainability practices. Green highway and building initiatives were well underway in California, but little had been done toward sustainable transit beyond establishing standard recycling programs when this project started in 2002.

    Opportunity: To expand the scope of sustainable transit, green practices needed to be identified and implemented by transit authorities on a local and national scale. To further promote green transit practices, sustainable design guidelines also needed to be developed. Creating and promoting green building and greenhouse gas reduction plans for transit stations and facilities can help reduce waste, conserve energy, reduce criteria pollutants, develop public recycling areas, incorporate recycled-content building materials, and expand public transit ridership.

    Approach: An initial review of current BART Facilities Standards documents led to the development of BART’s Sustainable Design Guidelines based on a wide range of existing measures, including the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Rating System and U.S. General Services Administration Green Building Guidelines. The pilot developed, implemented and documented short and long-term sustainable transit design, procurement, and construction practices through six specific objectives. Additionally, BART and the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) worked together to develop sustainability guidelines that are broadly applicable across the transit sector and organized a National Working Group for Sustainability in Transit.

    Project Updates: The Sustainable Transit Practices Compendium and Transit Sustainability Guidelines are already being used by numerous transit agencies. In March 2011, a new Sustainable Transit Standard was recently approved by APTA and online case studies are being added. Project partners have developed detailed guidance and transit-specific case studies and presented collective results through APTA, EPA, and leading sustainability conferences and webinars. BART is also documenting three transit sustainability case studies at major station renovation sites. EPA Region 9’s sustainability work has expanded to include high speed rail and is currently partnering with the Federal Railroad Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the California High-Speed Rail Authority to ensure the 800-mile California high-speed rail system project incorporates sustainable practices.

    Additional Information:

Top of Page

eCommerce Packaging and Shipping Design

Sponsor: EPA Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery Fiscal Year: 2002

Using an international design challenge, formed the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) and developed a design framework tool called Comparative Packaging Assessment Tool (COMPASS) to eliminate waste and reduce greenhouse gases in eCommerce product packaging and shipping.

  • Additional information on the project 

    Challenge: The rise in eCommerce has led to massive increases in delivered packages. EPA needed to find innovative solutions to the environmental impacts of growing packaging waste since the Agency lacked design professionals to develop creative alternatives.

    Opportunity: EPA implemented an international design challenge to develop sustainable packaging and design solutions for value recovery of packaging. Design students and professionals were leveraged for packaging


    • Formed the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC), which developed design guidelines for sustainable packaging, developed a software design tool (Comparative Packaging Assessment (COMPASS) tool) Exit, and developed a consensus definition of sustainable packaging—all of which support the goal of reducing the amount of material and packaging in the municipal solid waste stream. Today, more than 200 companies are members of the SPC.
    • COMPASS has been adopted by a number of U.S. companies including Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson. EPA is now partnering with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to develop the nation’s first sustainable product standards.

Top of Page

Drum-Top Crushing (DTC) Device Study

Sponsor: EPA Region 3 Fiscal Year: 2002

Conducted an empirical study on the release of mercury emissions from drum-top crushing (DTC) devices when processing fluorescent bulbs. The Mercury Lamp Drum-Top Crusher Study helped EPA develop awareness and educational tools on the safe use of DTC devices for recycling mercury-containing lamps, like the Fluorescent Lamp Recycling Report. This report also includes best management practices (BMPs) for the storage of spent fluorescent lamps and the use of DTCs for compacting waste lamps.

  • Additional information on the project 

    Challenge: The increasingly widespread use of energy-efficient, fluorescent lamps has had tremendous environmental benefits. However, mercury, a toxic chemical, is an essential component of fluorescent lamps. When lamps are broken, whether during storage, transport, disposal or crushing, a substantial portion of the mercury in the lamp is released as mercury vapor. If the mercury vapor is not controlled or contained, it could be easily inhaled, which is a health hazard for exposed individuals. Additionally, mercury released from broken lamps is persistent in the environment, where it can be chemically transformed to methyl mercury, which is more toxic than elemental mercury.

    Opportunity: To evaluate the ability of DTC devices to contain mercury released when lamps are crushed and to prevent worker exposure to adverse levels of airborne mercury.

    Approach: EPA Region 3 partnered with the States of Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia; DTC device manufacturers; and the Association of Lighting and Mercury Recyclers, to design and conduct the Mercury Lamp Drum-Top Crusher Study.

    Project Updates: More than 200 air samples were collected and indicated a release of mercury vapor from all DTC devices during crushing operations. Operator exposure only remained below the regulatory exposure limits when the DTC devices were operated optimally. The study also demonstrated an increased risk of mercury exposure when full drums were replaced with empty ones, an operation inherent in the use of a DTC device. Additionally, minor mistakes in DTC device assembly can significantly affect its ability to capture mercury. For example, a leak on one device notably raised mercury levels in the operator’s breathing zone and caused mercury concentrations to exceed the regulatory exposure limits for the area sample collected near the leak. It was also determined that mercury vapor can exceed established levels even if the lamps being crushed in the DTC device (i.e., low-mercury lamps) are not identified as hazardous wastes.

    The pilot project and subsequent Mercury Lamp Drum-Top Crusher Study helped EPA develop awareness and educational tools on the safe use of DTC devices for recycling mercury-containing lamps like the Fluorescent Lamp Recycling Report published in February 2009. This report provides information to businesses interested in recycling their spent mercury-containing lamps including best management practices (BMPs) for the storage of spent fluorescent lamps and the use of DTCs for compacting waste lamps. These BMPs are based on the results of EPA’s study of these devices and are intended to promote the safest possible use of DTCs for those who choose to use them.

Top of Page