Recycling and disposing automotive chemicals

How to properly recycle and dispose of automotive chemicals

By Mike Bumbeck,

Professional mechanics and businesses that deal with fixing cars are held to the strictest of rules concerning disposal and recycling of automotive materials. These rules apply whether the business just changes automotive oil or only sells tires. In fact, automobiles are one of the most recycled consumer goods on the planet. Fluids, metals, plastics and every other part of the modern automobile is salvaged and reused – sometimes even for another car or truck.

These same rules and common sense practices are not legislated onto the do-it-yourselfer or average automobile consumer. The responsibility to recycle used oil, coolant and other products of driveway car maintenance or repair is the sole responsibility of the shade tree mechanic. Specific regulations on disposal and recycling vary greatly by state and even by county. Regardless of location, automotive fluids cannot simply be thrown away for a number of reasons. Here are some tips on how to dispose of motor oil.

Oil slick

Every internal combustion automobile engine needs an oil and oil filter change at regular intervals. Multiply these changes by the number of vehicles on the road, and the sheer volume of oil to deal with becomes apparent. The good news is that engine oil recycling is easier than ever. Proper used oil disposal starts before the first drop of oil is drained. Purchase a container designed to catch used oil that can be sealed tight. Used engine oil can then easily be brought in for recycling after an oil change. Catch containers are available at most auto parts stores.

A large drip tray is another good idea that will prevent the oil, which always seems to miss the catch container, from reaching the ground. Oil filters should also be brought in with the used oil. Some city recycling programs even supply used oil containers for use with curbside recycling to help car owners learn how to dispose of car oil properly. A good bet is to purchase new oil only from a place that accepts used oil in return.

Never mix any other automotive fluids in with used oil. The old stuff is cleaned up and used as a base for other lubricants, heating oil and even more engine oil.

Keep your cool

Automotive engine coolant, or antifreeze, contains either ethylene or propylene glycols, both of which are toxic to animals and humans. These chemicals also taste sweet to pets and kids, who don’t know not to drink poison. Draining the engine coolant is something that often needs to be done when servicing the cooling system or other parts of the engine. The absolute best way to recycle engine coolant is to pour it right back into the cooling system. Purchase a dedicated catch container similar to the one for oil. The containers come in different colors to prevent confusion. Test the coolant with a ball-type or similar tester. If the coolant checks out OK then it can go right back into the radiator filling neck after repairs have been completed.

Antifreeze recycling centers are becoming more popular, but they are not available everywhere. Check your local laws concerning recycling antifreeze to see if engine coolant disposal is legal in the sewer system. Most municipal sewage treatment plants can usually break down the chemicals in antifreeze safely. Never pour antifreeze onto the ground, into a septic sewer system or into an open sewer drain. The sewer pipe must go to a sewage treatment plant.

Across the shelf

Along with oil and coolant, every fluid used by the modern automobile requires either recycling or special disposal. Disposal regulations vary by area, and these requirements vary according to the type of fluid. Transmission fluid disposal can vary greatly from coolant disposal, for example. For this reason it is very important never to mix automotive fluids together prior to disposal. Brake fluid, for example, is flammable and poisonous. Putting any used brake fluid in a sealed and dedicated container until it can be properly disposed of is good practice. The example of brake fluid disposal is the same with the disposal of all automotive fluids.

To sum it up

Still wondering how to dispose chemical products? Follow these simple guidelines:

  • Keep each fluid separate and in a dedicated, sealed container until it can be either recycled or disposed of.
  • Consult local, state and federal regulations regarding disposal of fluid.
  • Contact your local waste management company for drop-off and recycling locations.
  • Never dispose of any automotive fluids by dumping them on the ground, into a storm drain or into a septic system.

Responsible disposal and recycling of engine oil, coolant or other automotive fluids is just as important as regular car maintenance.

ExxonMobil and recycling

Visit our used motor oil recycling page for more information on where you can recycle your used oil.