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Dispose of car waste properly

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Properly disposing of household hazardous waste (HHW) of the automotive variety—keeping an old car battery from the household trash, for example—helps you avoid contributing hazardous substances to the waste stream that can potentially contaminate the air, soil, and water.

How to dispose of car waste properly

In a perfect world, most car owners—whether they choose to perform routine maintenance in the comfort of their own garages and driveways or prefer taking their babies in for a little TLC at an auto shop—understand that it’s an automotive taboo to dispose of hazardous car waste improperly. Such actions include chucking a lead-acid battery in the garbage (it subsequently ends up in a local landfill where toxic pollutants are released) or disposing of motor oil by pouring it down a storm drain (it then enters local waterways, killing off aquatic life and contaminating drinking water). Although these acts may offer some kind of convenience, a responsible car owner will go out of their way to make sure that their car’s toxic nasties end up in the right hands.

To start, you should familiarize yourself with what car substances are considered hazardous:

  • Antifreeze
  • Automotive body filler
  • Brake fluid
  • Waxes and polishes
  • Carburetor cleaner
  • Degreasers
  • Engine starter fluid
  • Gasoline and diesel fuel
  • Gear oil
  • Grease
  • Lead-acid batteries
  • Motor oil
  • Power steering fluid
  • Transmission fluid
  • Window washer fluid

Pet owners take particular heed: Antifreeze—generally comprised of around 95 percent of the toxic substance ethylene-glycol—may taste delicious to Fluffy or Fido but is extremely deadly. Around 10,000 dogs and cats die from antifreeze poisoning each year.[1] Opt to buy propylene glycol-based antifreeze. It's less toxic and, in turn, less of a threat to the environment—and your pet—if your car suffers from a leaky coolant system.

Now that you know what's harmful, you'll need to find a way to get rid of it:

  • Send it to a community drop-off center: Check with local guidelines on how and where to dispose of hazardous waste (that which is capable of catching fire or being explosive, containing toxic or radioactive elements, or having corrosive properties). Frequently, communities will have drop-off centers or collection programs where such substances will be disposed of properly and/or recycled. To see how your state regulates waste check out the US Environmental Protection Agency's Municipal Solid Waste State Data Map.
  • Find a recycler: If your local community lacks an organized HHW recycling program, take a gander at Earth 911 to locate an automotive recycling center near you.
  • Befriend your local auto mechanic. There's a chance they'll take car waste off of your hands (usually for a small fee) and have it disposed of with the waste generated at their shop. Be sure to call beforehand and get the heads up—mechanic Mike may not appreciate you showing up unannounced and anxious to hand over a couple gallons of toxic fluids.
  • Give oil back to retailer: By law retailers that sell motor oil must accept used motor oil from customers; up the amount that was initially purchased. So if you've recently changed your car's oil, take it on back to the place of purchase.

While all that's gone before will give you some good ideas for disposing of the regular auto maintenance-related HHW, what do you do with an old car when it's ready to be retired? After all, it's full of the stuff toxic dreams are made of. Well, if at all possible, avoid auto "graveyards." Once your car has expired and reselling it for what it’s worth isn't an option, consider donating it to charity. This altruistic decision also avoids letting its final home be a salvage yard or landfill. Organizations such as Kars4Kids, America’s Car Donation Charities Center, and 1-800 Charity Cars will put your old (yet operational) car to good use and you’ll be able to deduct its fair market value from your taxes.[2]

Disposing of car waste properly helps you go green because…

  • It will be recycled and/or disposed of in an environmentally-sound fashion instead of posing potential threats to the air, soil, water, and human health.

The improper disposal of motor oil, antifreeze, lead-acid batteries, and other components associated with routine automobile upkeep are a major contributor to pollution while the domestic automotive repair industry—repairs performed in autos shops and at one's home—is the leading source of small-quantity hazardous waste.[3] In the case of motor oil, it's estimated that 180 million gallons of spent motor oil are disposed of in an unsafe manner each year.[3]

Groundwater contaminated by 1 quart of oil can affect up to 250,000 gallons of drinking water.[4] Additionally, it's estimated that 20 times the amount of oil released during Alaska's Exxon Valdez catastrophe enters the environment via at-home auto work.[5] When recycled, 2 gallons of motor oil can produce enough electricity to power a home for one day or watch TV for 180 hours straight.[6]

Approximately 99 million lead-acid car batteries are produced each year, while around 90 percent of them are properly disposed of and recycled.[7] One standard car battery contains 21 pounds of lead, 3 pounds of plastic, and 1 pound of sulfuric acid.[8] Despite high recycling rates, 138,000 tons of lead originating from lead-acid batteries can be found in the municipal waste stream. Once these batteries corrode, the lead and sulfuric acid can pollute drinking water supplies. If the battery is burned at a landfill, lead can enter the air via toxic emissions.

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Thank you for mentioning car donation as alternative option for disposing of an unwanted vehicle. Many times vehicle owners procrastinate properly disposing of their car because they don't realize it's free and easy to give it away to charity.

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