The folks in rural Taylor County, Ga., are in an uproar, and Ryan Delcambre of Dow Chemical U.S.A. can understand why.

The state of Georgia had been considering Taylor and two other counties as the site for a hazardous waste dump.All three counties lobbied the Legislature for the dump. But as the Taylor County Commission chairman eventually admitted, the Taylor commission voted in an illegal secret session to go after the business, thereby cutting county residents completely out of the process.

When the matter came up in conversation, Mr. Delcambre shook his head, not in disbelief but in sad recognition of how often the public is ignored in such important decisions.

Whether the dump is intended for municipal or hazardous wastes, local residents must be permitted to share in the decision, said the waste reduction manager in Dow's Environmental Quality Department.

At the same time, however, the public must be willing to share responsibility for controlling waste, Mr. Delcambre said.

American households generate 230 million tons of waste every year, to which industry adds 180 million tons.

In the face of mounting public opposition to landfills, federal regulations limiting land disposal of waste and the high cost of incineration, the logical solution to the staggering environmental threat posed by this country's immense propensity for generating garbage is reducing the volume of waste produced, Mr. Delcambre said.

Dow Chemical is well aware of the need. Although Mr. Delcambre did not have any overall figures at his fingertips, he said the company generates about 13,000 tons of solid hazardous waste a year.

Dow is doing its part to reduce that volume and has been since the early 1960s, Mr. Delcambre said, although Dow had no way to measure its plants' waste reduction efforts or to set goals for much of that time.

To get a better handle on what was being done and what remained to be accomplished, Dow implemented in 1986 a formal program called Waste Reduction Always Pays, which Mr. Delcambre said essentially seeks to create a waste reduction mentality among Dow employees.

Under WRAP, he explained, all Dow plants inventory their wastes, rank them by priority, determine where the wastes are going and how the volume can be reduced. The plants are then monitored to ensure they are implementing the program.

Mr. Delcambre credited WRAP for a number of successful waste reduction efforts, including one at Dow's Dalton, Ga., latex plant, where workers managed to reduce air emissions by running the gas through a scrubber system and using it as a recovered raw material, thereby cutting emissions by 90 percent while generating sufficient raw material savings to pay for the recovery process.

In Freeport, Texas, Dow was incinerating a byproduct from the production of antifreeze and airplane de-icer that was discovered could be used as feedstock in the production of dry cleaning fluid. It is now being used as a raw material at plants in Louisiana, California and West Germany.

In California, researchers developed new technology that removes hazardous materials and recycles wastewater that had been going into solar evaporation ponds.

Mr. Delcambre emphasized that in addition to environmental factors, there are sound business reasons for setting waste reduction goals to get as close as possible to a theoretical zero.

The Dow executive pointed to the competitive nature of the (chemical) business. We can't be wasteful.

And waste disposal costs can be enormous, Mr. Delcambre said, noting that incineration costs have risen about 400 percent over the past few years to about $2,000 a barrel.

That's an incentive, he said.

Fortunately, he continued, the industry's mind-set is changing and waste reduction is becoming a top priority with virtually every U.S. chemical company.

If the industry appears a bit slow to make its moves in the field, Mr. Delcambre attributes it to the sudden surge of federal and state regulations in the 1970s in particular that had companies scrambling to install pollution control devices in order to meet regulation deadlines, rather than the more time-consuming thought processes needed to reduce waste volumes.

These days, I see large companies under the microscope like Dow doing all the right things, but problems remain with the small companies that may not be fully aware of what they should do or believes they cannot afford it, Mr. Delcambre said.

However, he said, It's a misconception that waste reduction must be expensive.

Also, the return on investment can be impressive, he added, noting that the the money Dow has invested in waste reduction projects has returned more than double in raw material savings, not including savings in disposal costs, long-term liability and overloaded control devices.

On top of that, four states - Georgia, North Carolina, Minnesota and Illinois - have state-funded programs in effect that will analyze a plant's operations and recommend what can be done to reduce the plant's wastes.

I firmly believe (such programs) are the wave of the future, and even big companies couldbenefit from the expertise, Mr. Delcambre said.

Congress has taken note as well, and legislation is pending in the House and Senate that would create similar technical assistance entities on the national level, he added.

According to a Chemical Manufacturers Association survey of 391 plants responsible for 80 percent of U.S. chemical production, the volume of solid waste has dropped by 50 percent and of wastewater by 23 percent over the past five years.

The industry is headed in the right direction, Mr. Delcambre said.