The Risks of Hazardous Waste, and How One Auto Repair Shop Solved Them

If you operate auto repair or collision facilities in multiple states, dealing with hazardous waste can be considerably complex. Improperly handling and disposing of these materials, such as by putting them in garbage cans, down drains or in sewage systems can be harmful, potentially life-threatening, and illegal. During the pandemic, EPA enforcement of these practices was relaxed. But renewed vigor in EPA enforcement, now ramping back to pre-COVID-19 levels, has put proper hazard disposal back on the forefront, and should be a priority for auto repair facilities.

The Waste Streams of Auto Repair Shops

Hazardous waste is defined as any waste with characteristics such as ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity or toxicity, all of which can make their handling dangerous, or harmful to the environment and people’s health. Many materials and liquids in auto repair shops may be considered hazardous waste including (but not limited to) paint and solvents, used oil, used antifreeze, waste gasoline, chemical containers, spent aerosol cans, shop dust, oil filters, batteries and vehicle lights. While the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act gives EPA the authority to control hazardous waste “from cradle to grave,” items that are considered hazardous, as well as their disposal requirements, vary from state to state. For example, some states (such as California) have more stringent requirements, resulting in more hazardous waste streams. States may also differ in how long certain materials or liquids can be kept before their required disposal.

Inadequate hazardous waste handling can put your company at significant financial risk. Large chains such as Firestone Auto Care, AutoZone, AutoNation and Service King have spent millions of dollars in recent years to settle cases where they were accused of improperly handling and disposing of hazardous waste.

A sample of recent settlements from improper hazardous waste disposal, 2018-2022

  • Company
  • Firestone Auto Care
  • CarMax
  • Pep Boys
  • AutoZone
  • Service King
  • AutoNation
  • Cooks Collision
  • Year
  • 2022
  • 2020
  • 2019
  • 2019
  • 2019
  • 2018
  • 2018
  • Settlement Amount
  • $4M
  • $1.6M
  • $3.7M
  • $11M
  • $2.35M
  • $3.8M
  • $1.5M

The Right Vendors Can Mean the Right Protection

Tracking ever-shifting regulations regarding waste management can be an extremely time-consuming chore, as well as an unpredictable one. The next auto repair shop fined despite its best intentions will hardly be the first, or the last. Chains with multiple locations across many states, however, often work with a patchwork of local vendors, which can lead to high costs, a lack of uniform oversight, and uneven diligence.

Auto repair shops should also be aware that even after hazardous waste is removed from their premises, they are still responsible for it. Some vendors may lack proper insurance and certifications, making the repair facility responsible for the clean-up if a driver gets into an accident or prioritizes dumping convenience over compliance. In the end, the company paying the penalty for noncompliance will be the auto repair center as the generator of the hazardous waste, and not the local vendor.

On the other hand, working with well-vetted, quality compliance vendors provides multiple advantages, including taking the guesswork out of compliance, increasing the certainty of reliability, and economies of scale.

Dennis Wolff is the VP of Sales and Hub Operations for Crystal Clean, a national leader in the environmental services market, with nearly 100 locations across the United States and Canada. Dennis knows firsthand the issues faced by auto service centers. “We see many chains that have multiple vendors across state lines. A common struggle they all experience is inconsistent hazardous waste disposal practices from location-to-location, with no simple system to identify which locations are compliant and which aren’t. From a risk-management standpoint, this is a crucial area for improvement to protect both their company and the communities they work in as compliance and sustainability continues to be top of mind in many industries.”

How One Company Solved Their Hazardous Waste Risks

One auto repair chain faced that exact problem. With facilities across almost every state, and inconsistent processes and policies, a lawsuit or fine was a matter of “when” and not “if.” Fortunately for them, they called GMG EnviroSafe. GMG EnviroSafe works with hundreds of auto repair companies to identify risks, train staff, provide laboratory services and deliver in-person support, among many other services. One such offering, the GMG EnviroSafe Your Compliance Department program, provides a comprehensive suite of EHS resources including training for hazardous material shipping, transportation and waste tracking; chemical inventory audits; laboratory services; and much more. By working with GMG EnviroSafe, auto repair facilities are protected inside and out.

Once GMG EnviroSafe became involved, problematic practices for the auto repair chain were immediately curtailed. GMG EnviroSafe identified every waste stream from batteries to airbags (there were 20 waste streams in all), and created a specific program for the classification and disposal of each, including storage protocols, ensuring the use of proper containers, transportation processes and more. Programs were site-specific to adhere to individual state and local regulations, and included detailed training, guidance and monitoring. Today, each facility of the chain can easily identify whether they have the right containers or not, fix problems, and the chain’s management has individual location information at their fingertips. Instead of a menagerie of local suppliers, a small group of well-vetted, high quality environmental vendors now support standardized practices across all the locations.

Protect with GMG EnviroSafe

A knowledgeable compliance partner is a must for auto repair chains that want to avoid fines, punishments or unsafe conditions for employees and the community. GMG EnviroSafe works closely with auto facilities from coast-to-coast to help them meet environmental, health and safety regulations. Ask us how we can help at