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The Complex Nature of an Automotive Business's Waste Stream

In this blog post, we explain the complex nature of an automotive business's waste stream, and what can happen when these materials are not disposed of correctly.

Shelby Bell | October 29, 2019


If you are familiar with the automotive industry, you know that mechanics, car dealers, and collision centers generate various types of hazardous and/or potentially harmful waste materials. When it comes to properly treating and disposing of these materials, businesses must adhere to specific disposal processes and regulations. In this blog post, we’ll take you behind the scenes of what this process looks like for the automotive industry, and what can happen when these materials are not handled or disposed of properly. Continue reading to learn more!

the complexities of Automotive Waste

Generators of hazardous waste must follow specific regulations and practices for properly disposing of the waste under a law called the Resource and Conservation Act (RCRA). According to the EPA, the RCRA hazardous waste program is regulated and implemented at the state level. Since specific disposal practices and regulations can differ by state, other environmental laws may also affect businesses in the automotive industry depending on the situation. As a business owner or manager, it's important to understand exactly what laws exist in your region. Check out the EPA's resource for help understanding your state's regulations.

Car dealers and mechanics offer a wide-range of services like oil changes, tire and battery maintenance and replacement, and general maintenance. Automotive businesses are required to adhere to a wide array of regulations when handling, storing, and disposing of the waste generated by these activities in order to maintain a safe environment at their place of business and in their local community. Mechanics and collision centers frequently deal with corrosive materials that are known to be toxic to humans, wildlife, and plants and polluting our environment. For these reasons, improperly disposing of the materials in garbage cans, down drains, or in sewage systems is harmful and potentially life-threatening, not to mention illegal. Businesses who improperly dispose of these products can face criminal and civil penalties.


To help you reduce the amount of hazardous waste you generate and maintain a safe work environment, we've organized the best waste reduction and recycling tips for the most common waste streams that automotive businesses generate:


Motor Oil

According to the EPA, used motor oil is insoluble, persistent, and can contain toxic chemicals and heavy metals. But with proper training, any automotive business can easily recycle and reuse motor oil on-site. The EPA launched the "You Dump It, You Drink It" campaign with the following tips to educate mechanics and auto repair businesses about the proper way to dispose of used motor oil:


1. Label all containers and tanks as "Used Motor Oil."

2. Keep containers and tanks in good condition.

3. Store used motor oil in tanks and storage containers

4. Keep used motor oil in safe areas away from workers

5. Do not mix used motor oil with other materials.



Batteries are made from a number of different materials including acid, lead, and nickel that can leach into the environment if not handled correctly. So what should businesses do with them? Luckily, over 95% of a car battery is recyclable. Many state and regional laws require auto shops to ship batteries back to a recycling center to ensure the toxic chemicals and heavy metals do not contaminate the environment. As a rule of thumb, if the battery shows evidence of damage that could cause leakage, your business must manage it as a hazardous waste



Antifreeze is highly toxic and can contaminate freshwater, posing a threat to humans or animals who ingest it. When recycling antifreeze at your business, always use safety goggles, masks, and gloves when draining the radiator and replacing antifreeze. To begin, place a pan under the drain valve, and let the antifreeze drain into the pan before closing the valve. Transfer old antifreeze into a sealed plastic container and send it to a recycling plant for recycling. Never dispose of antifreeze on the ground, down storm drains, or in sewer drains.



High volumes of production and the durability of materials make tire recycling critical. Since old tires do not biodegrade, disposing of them in landfill means they will stay there forever and take up significant amounts of space. Tires also represent a serious environmental concern due to the possibility of toxins leaking into the soil and water supply. Currently 48 states have laws or regulations specifically dealing with the management of scrap tires, but illegal dumping still occurs. Many automotive shops are stepping up to the plate and reusing and repairing their customer's used tires to salvage the rubber. But once the tires are no longer usable, automotive businesses and tire centers must recycle them. Your business can take them to a recycling facility for shredding and recycling into new products.


Scrap Metal

When disposed of in a landfill, metal can leak dangerous chemicals into the ground. Fortunately, scrap metal is one of the most valuable materials you can recycle, and many used metals from automobiles are recyclable, including doors, hoods, engines, and more. Before recycling, make sure the metals do not contain any liquids. Collect your business' scrap metals separately from other materials, and sell it to a metal recycling facility in your area.



A solvent is a liquid that businesses use to dissolve a substance or material. Most automotive businesses use solvents for parts cleaning, degreasing, and painting. Under the RCRA, businesses must determine if their spent solvents are hazardous wastes. If they are hazardous, the business must manage and and dispose of the solvents properly. Failing to do so can cause legal consequences for violating the RCRA hazardous waste requirements. Treating and disposing of solvents can be expensive and time consuming, but automotive businesses can switch to water-based cleaning or base coats in place of solvents to save time, money, and resources.


If you are interested in learning more about the RCRA and regulations that exist in your region, we encourage you to check out the EPA's resources. In the meantime, let us know how your business manages automotive waste, or if you have any questions! Thanks, as always, for reading!



Let's get the conversation started on how to drive recycling and cost savings for your business.