Take a New Look at Recycling Take a New Look at Recycling
Waste management has always factored into the cost of doing business, but now more than ever, the regulatory climate in the U.S. guarantees that the motor vehicle aftermarket must address this challenge. In 1980, Congress enacted the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as Superfund. This legislation granted the federal government authority to respond directly to releases, or threatened releases, of hazardous substances that may endanger public health or the environment.
Rust removers, carburetor cleaners, degreasers, parts cleaners, paint thinners, motor oil and automotive batteries all contain substances classified by the government as hazardous waste. Any company that ships 220 pounds, which is roughly half of a 55-gallon drum, of hazardous waste off its property must fill out Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifests, complete with an EPA identification number. Add this to the rising cost of supplies, from packing materials to antifreeze, and the possibility of recycling these materials becomes increasingly attractive.
"No hazardous waste leaves our facility, and we're making money in the process," says Gary Carpenter of Kansas City Auto Repair. "We just built a new facility that is in full compliance with the EPA's Greenshops Program. We eliminated floor drains, so we wouldn't need a collection pit, and started using hydrophobic mops, which allow us to reclaim spilled substances."
"We have it organized to the point where recycling is very efficient. We take advantage of recycling programs offered by our suppliers," explains Carl Dunn, vice president of distribution and parts purchasing at Merchant's Tire & Auto. Old tires, batteries, antifreeze, cleaning fluids, refrigerant, oil, oil filters, wheel weights and brake parts are among the many items Dunn cites as recyclable.
Meineke Discount Muffler Shops has a similar approach, in that they try to handle all their solid waste through recycling channels. "We have two major categories of waste: fluids and metals," says Tom Kirby, director of product and equipment services for Meineke. "For most of these items, proper handling is mandated by the government. Our dealers tend to pass the disposal fees on to the customer, which doesn't affect their competitiveness because it has become standard practice in the industry."
Switching to bulk containers for liquid supplies like antifreeze, motor oil and brake fluid is a tactic that worked well for Carpenter. By negotiating with suppliers to share the costs of pumps, tanks and handling equipment, he cut the cost of supplies, eliminated container waste and reduced spillage.
Merchant's takes a slightly different approach. Though Dunn now purchases transmission fluid in 55-gallon drums, he found that windshield washer fluid and antifreeze did not easily transfer to a large 275-gallon tank bulk supply, because of storage limitations. The 55-gallon drum size also works the best for these products.
Fluctuations in the cost and demand for items like motor oil and antifreeze also influence supply decisions. "Many of the newer model cars now require 5W-30 oil. When we find that over 50 percent of our customers request this viscosity, we will probably begin stocking it in 275-gallon tanks," Dunn explains. "With antifreeze, the price difference is negligible, so our customers don't have much incentive to request recycled over new."
Many shops send used or damaged parts to the scrap heap. While scrap collection is a free and simple means of disposal, it isn't the most efficient method. Remanufacturers offer incentives to turn in a used core, which lowers the cost of the corresponding replacement part. Ask anyone in the industry, and they'll tell you that using remanufactured parts is the most cost-effective way to get products to market.
Remanufacturing is often referred to as the "ultimate form of recycling," because it recaptures the value-added cost of labor, energy and raw materials that initially go into the production of a part. According to a document published by the Automotive Parts Rebuilders Association's Remanufacturing Institute, annual worldwide energy savings from remanufacturing equals the electricity generated by five nuclear power plants, or 10,744,000 barrels of crude oil.
"We purchase remanufactured brake parts from one supplier, taking advantage of their brand name acceptance," says Dunn. All brake cores are then returned to Merchant's supplier.
And don't forget about that pile of used catalytic converters sitting in the corner. Converters contain precious metals, which can fetch prices between $12-$20 depending on size. "It's not a huge revenue stream, but when you have a bunch of converters taking up shop space it's nice to know you can turn that eyesore into extra cash," Kirby explains.
Hard parts and fluids aren't the only items in a shop that can be handled more efficiently. Using an aqueous part cleaner can save time, labor, and eliminate hazardous solvents from your work environment. Aqueous cleaners work similar to dishwashers, in that they use heat and water pressure to clean parts.
"We used to have an enzyme-based cleaning system, which was better than the old solvent tank, but still required scrubbing. When I first introduced the aqueous machine, my technicians balked at the concept, but now they love it because the parts come out clean and dry, and it's on a timer so they don't have to keep track of it," Carpenter says.
Shops can increase efficiency, as well as safety, by switching from aerosol sprays to closed systems for brake cleaning. "Unlike sprays, where we pay $2 a can, and have little control over where the asbestos dust is going, the new method uses a liquid to swab brake components, and has a filter to catch the dust," says Kirby.
Finding ways to get the most mileage out of solvent before disposing is critical to paint and body repair shops. "Spray guns have to be cleaned after each use, but at $440/55-gallon drum, disposing of the hazardous waste generated by used solvent can be quite costly," says Joe Mattos of Mattos Pro-Finishes.
Many states mandate by law that paint guns must be cleaned with a closed-system gun washer, which traps solvents in a tub for reuse. The closed system traps fumes and prolongs solvent life through several usages. After the solvent is exhausted, it can then be reclaimed with a recycler.
"Recyclers work like a still, they essentially cook off the paint residues and pigments," Mattos explains. "What remains is a hockey puck-sized piece of solid waste, known to the industry as a sludge."
The recycler recovers over 90 percent of the original solvent, which is as good as new. However, a lot of issues come into consideration when disposing of the sludge, one of which is the size of the shop. "Facilities that qualify as regulated generators must make a hazardous waste determination based upon the chemical and metal content of the solvent," explains Sherry Davis of the Pollution Prevention Institute at Kansas State University.
Installers aren't the only aftermarket companies affected by the recycling trend. Many retailers also offer used fluid and battery collection programs as a service to their customers. In most cases, the increased store traffic and positive community relations generated by these services far outweigh the costs.
Richard Neves, who manages the used oil-recycling program for Florida's Department of Environmental Protection, lauds the efforts of AutoZone and Discount Auto Parts to promote proper disposal of used oil by do-it-yourself oil changers (DIYers). "Our program is very fortunate to have the cooperation of these major corporations. It's not a regulated process, they've simply volunteered to create and manage collection centers for the public."
Many places that accept used oil will also accept oil filters. Foundries can transform used filters into a low-grade steel product that can be used for manhole covers, among other applications.
"We accept up to five gallons of used oil, transmission fluid and gear oil from DIYers. Our transporter and recycler has developed a technology that separates and reclaims all these fluids, and a plan is in the works to add antifreeze to the program," explains Lori Poepsel, an environmental specialist for AutoZone. "It's purely a convenience to our customers. We promote the program through our stores, and absorb the costs as overhead."
Roughly ten years ago Discount Auto Parts began implementing programs to promote green practices among their clientele. Each Discount Auto retail location features a container for used oil, transmission fluid and batteries. Oil is reused in construction equipment, and batteries are returned to the manufacturer for smelting. The company also carries remanufactured parts such as water pumps, brake shoes, starters and master cylinders; and retail customers who turn in a used core are exempt from the deposit fee.
In general, battery prices include the exchange of an old core. Stores collect spent cores on a pallet and return them to the manufacturer, who then takes them to a smelter. Nearly 85 percent of the raw materials in the original battery are reclaimed. For manufacturers recycling spells savings; the more they recycle, the cheaper it is to make batteries.
"Extreme weather sells batteries, and depending on the time of year, we usually capture between 85-100 percent of our customer's used batteries," explains Steve Stohll, a product manager for AutoZone. "Used batteries are considered hazardous waste, so it's great to have a system in place for safe disposal."
Battery and parts manufacturers aren't the only companies who offer incentives to retailers who recycle. Oil companies like Castrol and Valvoline also give distributors a percentage discount to help offset the costs of operating used oil collection programs.
While many businesses are finding that recycling solves waste management problems without hurting the bottom line, the industry still has a long way to go. "Fear is the biggest obstacle," explains Carpenter. "When you say 'EPA,' people run. They hate regulation, and are reluctant to spend the money up front to fully integrate recycling with their normal business practices."
Most states require companies to obtain identification numbers from the EPA, and pay hazardous waste fees. In turn, retail customers are offered rebates when they dispose of items like oil and transmission fluid through recycling programs. However, this does very little to help shops manage the cost of compliance.
Davis suggests making use of the technical assistance programs offered by state environmental agencies. "Most states offer free and confidential regulatory assistance, and will help businesses find local recycling opportunities and explore new technologies that can make their operations less wasteful." Information on individual state programs is available on the Pollution Prevention Roundtable Web site at www.p2.org/inforesources/nppr_yps.html.
The EPA, in cooperation with the Automotive Service Association (ASA), recently introduced the voluntary Greenshops certification program to encourage shop owners to develop an environmental management system. Facilities that earn a Greenshops certification have achieved a "better-than-compliance" performance rating in the following areas: parts cleaning, brake cleaning, aerosol use, antifreeze recycling, spill prevention, floor cleanup and oil/water separator maintenance.
Significant reductions in costly hazardous waste disposal and increased savings on supplies like antifreeze and solvent are touted as the practical benefits of participation. Information about the Greenshops program is available at 800-272-7467, ext. 224.
The Coordinating Committee for Automotive Repair (CCAR) is a not-for-profit corporation that was formally established in 1994 by organizations representing all sectors of the automotive service and repair industry. The CCAR-GreenLink Web site, http://www.ccar-greenlink.org/, offers free technical assistance in the form of reports, articles and virtual shop diagrams.
Keeping Ahead of the Game
Recycling is about the bottom line. Cutting down on waste equals money saved. Whether you purchase bulk supplies, recycle antifreeze on site or reuse pallets and shipping materials, you're on the right track. Those companies who've done their research and made the investment in recycling technologies and processes are the ones that will continue to prosper, despite increasingly stringent environmental regulations.