Alabama ranks as one of the top five producers of cars and light trucks in the country. Vehicles are Alabama's number one export, and the automotive industry provides jobs to more than 40,000 people in our state.
As an important stakeholder in our state’s automotive manufacturing industry, you understand the value of managing hazardous wastes responsibly. After all, the safe, efficient management of such wastes will protect both the environment and Alabama’s citizens. Here are important strategies for managing some of the top hazardous wastes in the industry.
Hazardous Waste Materials in Automotive Manufacturing
Whether you work in a small auto body shop or large-scale manufacturing facility, there's a good chance you come into contact with these hazardous waste materials on a regular basis:
- Used oil, including used oil filters and sorbents
- Rags, towels, or paper towels that have come into contact with chemicals
- Lead-acid batteries
- Lead wheel weights
- Automotive chemicals like antifreeze and refrigerants
- Fluorescent lamps
- Waste paint products, including paint thinner and paint booth filters
The Risks of Incorrect Disposal of Hazardous Waste Materials
The list of hazardous waste materials in the automotive industry is long. However, sending materials like antifreeze, aerosol cans, and lead-acid batteries to landfills can have serious repercussions on both the environment and human health.
Additionally, the potential threat to human lives stemming from improper waste disposal can’t be overemphasized. As waste containers corrode over time, they leach chemicals into the soil. Those chemicals run underground, contaminating our water and eventually making their way into the ocean, where they destroy aquatic ecosystems. There are other risks, as well. For example, the lithium in lead-acid batteries can cause underground fires that can rage for years, releasing toxic chemicals into the air.
Hazardous waste materials can also be harmful to any employees who come in contact with them without following proper safety protocols. Many waste materials are filled with carcinogens, and some chemicals can be damaging to human respiratory systems. When proper safety guidelines aren't being followed, your business can be held liable for any harm your employees suffer.
The Safe Management of Automotive Waste
In Alabama, two types of automotive businesses need to obtain an EPA Identification Number and notify ADEM(Alabama Department of Environmental Management) of their hazardous waste activities annually: SQGs (Small Quantity Generators) and LQGs (Large Quantity Generators).
SQGs can’t accumulate more than 13,200 pounds of hazardous wastes or 2.2 pounds of acute hazardous wastes at any time. Meanwhile, LQGs (which usually produce 2,200 pounds or more of hazardous wastes or more than 2.2 pounds of acute hazardous wastes in a month) must not allow a build-up of on-site hazardous wastes for more than 90 days.
Use these strategies for reducing automotive wastes and managing the wastes your business does produce:
- Use More Environmentally Friendly Materials: Use citrus-based solvents or recirculating spray wash cabinets for metal parts cleaning (instead of toxic chlorinated solvents). Above all, try to recycle used oils and solvents as much as possible.
- Keep a Tidy Workspace: Spills happen, no matter how careful one is. Keep a tidy workspace, clean up any spills immediately, and consider using combustible absorbents to clean up spilled oil. The EPA recommends specific clean-up practices for handling used oil. Although not required, extraction devices such as centrifuges and compactors may be used to recover used oil from recyclable sorbent materials.
- Prepare Materials for Pick Up: All waste materials should be kept in airtight, clearly labeled containers until they can be picked up by a waste management team. Before the pickup crew arrives, you'll want to make sure containers are fully sealed and any funnels have been removed from lids.
- Have a Regular Pick Up Time and Designated Locations: Put your business on a schedule for regular waste removal and keep track of which containers at your location need to be removed each week. It's best to place containers in the same spot week after week so you don't forget a container. Having a regular pick up time and designated locations will keep hazardous wastes from sitting around beyond ADEM (Alabama Department of Environmental Management) timelines.
Always contract with experienced hazardous waste disposal experts to comply with ADEM regulations.