University of Minnesota
Minnesota Technical Assistance Program

Waste Reduction in Vehicle Maintenance Facilities

Wastes are regulated more strictly than ever as more is discovered about the serious environmental impact of improper handling. Think of all the negative effects of waste in your shop alone: wasted inventory, wasted labor, reduced productivity, time spent on waste management administration and paperwork, and of course, waste disposal costs.

Pollution prevention means not producing waste in the first place or, at least, reducing the volume produced. It can also mean producing waste that is less hazardous to the environment or in the workplace. In the auto shop, pollution prevention opportunities include switching to alternative solvents, recycling solvents, reducing packaging and non-recyclable office waste, task training, labeling, spill cleanup and more.

Hazardous Waste Reduction | Solid Waste Reduction | Other Waste Resources

Hazardous Waste Reduction

Aqueous Parts Cleaning

By using solvents for parts cleaning, you can create unnecessary environmental, worker health, and fire liabilities in your auto shop. Decrease the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOC) by switching to aqueous cleaners. These water-based cleaners are typically nonflammable and less than 5% VOCs. Aqueous cleaners break up dirt with heat, agitation, and soap action. Many contain rust inhibitors that help protect parts from rusting after cleaning. Aqueous spray cabinets and aqueous microbial sink-tops are common cleaning units in vehicle maintenance facilities. These units may reduce cleaning labor, wasted solution, and waste management costs. Listed are aqueous parts cleaning resources available to vehicle maintenance facilities.

The shops featured in these U.S. EPA Region 9 case studies successfully switched from solvent to aqueous (waterbased) parts cleaning. Aqueous cleaners are capable of meeting or exceeding the many parts cleaning challenges encountered in a wide variety of auto repair operations.

Parts Washers

Petroleum solvents used in parts washers are highly regulated due to their environmental and health impacts. For infrequent users, changing partswashing equipment may not be economical, but using pump sprays with the aqueous cleaners may be as effective. Larger operations and frequent partswashing equipment users will likely benefit from an equipment switch. Busy mechanical repair shops can benefit from load-and-walk-away cabinets. Listed are parters washer resources available to vehicle maintenance facilities.

  • MnTAP Fact Sheet: Aqueous Parts Washers for Small Operations (2009). Since aqueous parts washers use water-based chemistries, they can be less hazardous to operate than petroleum solvent parts washers. This fact sheet describes the options available and has a list of suppliers.
  • Aqueous Brake Washers—Best Environmental Practices for Auto Repair and Fleet Maintenance [PDF 95KB]. Aqueous brake washing units use waterbased cleaning solutions. These solutions are nonflammable and contain little or no volatile organic compounds. Aqueous brake washing units are widely available, perform as well as solvent-based equipment and offer many other advantages. U.S. EPA Region 9 fact sheet.

Antifreeze Recycling

Waste antifreeze can be recycled in order to reduce hazardous waste disposal costs and save on the cost of antifreeze purchases. Antifreeze is produced from natural gas, a non-renewable resource. Through recycling waste antifreeze, your vehicle maintenance facility can conserve resources. Waste antifreeze should be recycled either in an on-site unit, by a mobile service, or off-site. Ask your vendors about the feasibility of adding an antifreeze recycling unit to your facility. Listed is an antifreeze recycling resource available to vehicle maintenance facilities.


Handle liquids carefully. When spills do occur, use tools instead of absorbent supplies for cleanup. Remember that oily waste can't go into the garbage. Use a squeegee and dustpan as shown to retrieve most of the oil and pour it right into your used oil container. If the floor is dirty, place a section of window screen over your funnel before you pour. Listed is an absorbents resource available to vehicle maintenance facilities.

  • MnTAP Fact Sheet: Oil Cleanup (2010). Used oil and used oil sorbent are regulated hazardous wastes. This fact sheet highlights strategies for cutting oil use and reducing spills.

Floor Cleanup

Keeping your shop floor clean and dry reduces liabilities and increases worker safety. Vehicle maintenance facilities must manage where spilled material is being disposed to. The Clean Water Act makes it illegal to discharge pollutants to surface waters. Prevent polluting the aquatic ecosystem by avoiding flushing wash water down storm drains. When spills occur, first squeeze up any oil present and transfer it to the used oil drum, then squeeze up any antifreeze and transfer it to the waste coolant drum for recycling. Use rags to dry the surface where the spill occurred before mopping up the area with a mild, biodegradeable detergent. Listed are floor cleanup resources available to vehicle maintenance facilities.

  • MnTAP Fact Sheet: Floor Drain Systems (2010). Basic utilities usually are not thought about until a problem arises. Plumbing systems typically function for many years without needing attention. This fact sheet gives tips on preventing plumbing problems. It covers basic information about floor drain systems and separators and includes simple maintenance ideas.
  • Floor Cleanup—Best Environmental Practices for Auto Repair and Fleet Maintenance [PDF 511KB]. Decrease the floor wash water volume and contamination at your auto repair shop to minimize the impact of wastewater regulations, reduce liabilities, protect the environment and community, and save your shop time and money.

Oil Use/Disposal

By extending the life of oil and using reusable filters, vehicle maintenance facilites can reduce the amount of disposed oil. Used oil gets recycled by being burned for energy or re-refined. Burning oil results in air pollution that includes sulfur and hydrocarbon emissions. Listed are oil use/disposal resources available to vehicle maintenance facilities.


Efficient painting requires skill, and it's worth keeping in mind that skills can be honed and improved. Even small habit changes or modifying technique can make a big difference in the amount of waste produced. Invest in your employees for the long haul with routine, effective training. Listed are painting resources available to vehicle maintenance facilities.

  • MnTAP Fact Sheet: Spray Painting and Coating Waste Reduction Alternatives (2003). This MnTAP fact sheet goes in depth on many waste reduction opportunities for painting and coating process, from product design through manufacturing, coating and cleaning.
  • LaserPaint and VirtualPaint The Iowa Waste Reduction Center offers two products that help painters optimize spray distance and spray technique. LaserPaint is an attachment for manual spray paint guns of any make or model. It uses two laser beams that converge into a single dot when the spray gun is at the optimum distance. The VirtualPaint training system allows painters to practice spray technique without use of coating or materials and without producing any waste or air emissions.
  • Spray Technique Analysis and Research for Defense (STAR4D) Training. This Iowa Waste Reduction Center training helps the military refinishing industry use less material and improve finish quality. While this program is currently just for military painters, most of the information is valuable to any spray painters wanting to improve their spray technique and efficiency.

Solid Waste Reduction

Refillable Spray Bottles

Compared to aerosol cans, refillable spray bottles are less expensive and have a less of an impact on the environment. Refilling bottles saves money by avoiding the high cost of aerosol cans and reducing the solid and possibly hazardous waste stream they produce. There are two basic types of refillable spray bottles: metal bottles that spray product using compressed air and plastic bottles that use a hand pump to spray product. An additional benefit of refillable spray bottles is saving space and reducing excess inventory. Listed is a refillable spray bottle resource available to vehicle maintenance facilities.


Running for parts can result in plenty of waste plastic bags and cardboard boxes. Reusable transport packaging (totes, boxes, and bins) is used for shipping multiple trips where the return of empty transport packaging components can be repeated. This includes reusable pallets and pallet rentals. Reusable packaging can save you and the supplier money and disposal hassles. Additional benefits include better product protection, a more productive distribution flow, and improved worker safety. Listed is a packaging resource available to vehicle maintenance facilities.

Other Waste Resources

  • MnTAP Fact Sheet: Collision Repair: Reducing Waste and Costs (2009). Cutting the amount of waste generated at your collision repair facility can help you comply with regulations and save money. This fact sheet highlights changes in materials and practices that can help reduce waste at your facility.
  • MnTAP Fact Sheet: Key Practices for Small Businesses with Regulated Waste (2005). A place for everything and everything in its place. This common-sense idea makes efficiency sense in a busy shop with lots of technicians. The tips in this MnTAP fact sheet can help you evaluate current waste management practices, increase efficiency and improve waste reduction at your shop.
  • MnTAP Intern Summary: Waste Reduction at a Vehicle Maintenance Facility (1995). A MnTAP Intern helped the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reduce waste in one of its vehicle maintenance facilities. All of the waste streams were analyzed and reduction options for each stream are proposed, including using remanufactured parts; using low-sulfur diesel fuel; lengthening equipment service cycles; and minimizing waste from oil, antifreeze, solvent, used oil filters, tires, batteries, floor sorbent and aerosols.
  • Ten Tips for Truckers & the Environment. This video reviews basic sources of pollution both at the facility and in the truck and instructs viewers on ways to reduce or prevent contaminants reaching the environment. Although the video was originally produced specifically for the trucking industry, the information presented applies equally well to buses and cars. American Trucking Association, 1994.
  • Fact Sheets on Pollution Prevention for Auto Repair and Fleet Maintenance. These fact sheets provided by the EPA provide best environmental practices for activities within vehicle maintenance and auto repair facilities.
  • Pollution Prevention Implementation Plans for Vehicle Maintenance [648 KB]. Developed by the Iowa Waste Reduction Center, this document provides an overview of pollution prevention options, a review of the costs and benefits associated with these options, and steps for pollution prevention implementation and financing.
  • Design for the Environment. The U.S EPA Design for the Environment (DfE) Program is working with the automotive repair industry and individual shops to increase awareness of the health and environmental concerns associated with refinishing activities and to identify and encourage the use of safer, cleaner, more efficient practices and technologies.
  • Environmental compliance for trucking and vehicle maintenance facilities Green Truck is a service provided by American Trucking Associations in cooperation with the Transportation Environmental Resource Center. This site provides timely and reliable information about environmental compliance requirements at trucking and vehicle maintenance facilities. From underground storage tanks to diesel smoke testing, they've got your answers.

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