The sale of automotive products and associated waste is regulated by multiple agencies, including: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Transportation (DOT), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), State environmental agencies, and local health departments and sewer/wastewater utilities.
Automotive products with the potential to be hazardous waste include petroleum-based products, fuel and oil additives, batteries, antifreeze, refrigerants, solvents, compressed gases, and aerosols. Even cleaning products, waxes, and other exterior and interior surface protectants may be hazardous waste. The CRC hazardous waste page has more information on how to determine which products have the potential to become hazardous waste and the proper management of hazardous waste.
Automotive products with the potential to be universal waste include light bulbs, electronics, and batteries (both lead-acid and other batteries).
Aerosol cans with a flammable propellant or contents that are flammable or otherwise hazardous may be considered a hazardous waste. In some states, an empty can may be considered a reactive waste and therefore a hazardous waste unless it has been punctured or crushed. However, if you do puncture or crush aerosol cans, that activity may be regulated, and the residual contents must be collected and managed appropriately, possibly as hazardous waste. In a few states, aerosol cans can be treated as universal waste. Aerosols can be recycled, but hazardous waste regulations may need to be followed.
Under the Clean Air Act Nonessential Products Ban, most aerosol products that use chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) or hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) as propellants are banned from sale in the US.
Standard lead-acid vehicle batteries are considered hazardous wastes, but most are managed in accordance with special standards (federal standards are in 40 CFR Part 266, Subpart G, and most states have similar standards) if they are going to be reclaimed. Almost all lead-acid batteries can be recycled through battery suppliers or other authorized haulers. Lead-acid batteries not managed under 40 CFR Part 266, Subpart G could be managed as universal waste in most states. If managed as universal wastes, the used or waste batteries or the container for the batteries must be labeled or marked clearly with any one of the following phrases: "Universal Waste -- Battery(ies)," or "Waste Battery(ies)," or "Used Battery(ies)." Such batteries generally must not be stored onsite for more than a year.
Lead-acid batteries with cracked or damaged housings should be stored in compatible containment, such as a plastic spill pallet or tote. Spill kits with acid neutralizers should be readily accessible near all battery storage areas, and store personnel should be trained in safe clean up procedures.
Scrap tires are regulated primarily at the state level and local level. Most states have landfill bans on scrap tires, effectively requiring them to be recycled. A few common requirements or elements in state used tire programs include taxes or fees on automobiles or tires to fund scrap tire programs, scrap tire market development activities, licensing or registration requirements for scrap tire haulers or processors, manifests for scrap tire shipments, and tire pile elimination activities. Retailers are often required to keep records and file annual reports on used tire recycling. EPA has a list of scrap tire programs by region and state, and the CRC Other Regulated Waste page also has information.
The storage of scrap tires is frequently regulated by fire codes and local health regulations. Because stagnant water in used tires is a breeding place for mosquitos, health regulations to prevent the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses frequently require tires to be stored under cover and protected from precipitation. Fire and building codes frequently restrict the location and number tires stored.
The EPA has a Scrap Tires Guidance document outlining the alternative uses available for scrap tires in addition to placing them in a landfill.
Even retail stores that only sell automotive products and do not service vehicles or perform oil changes may be subject to used oil recycling requirements. In many states, a retailer of new motor oil must either accept used oil from the do-it-yourself or DIY public, or provide information on the nearest DIY public collection location. This ranges from providing the information on web sites to posting signage at the shelf on the retail floor.
Most antifreeze contains ethylene glycol, which is toxic to humans and animals. It also has a sweet taste, so spilled antifreeze entices animals to drink it. Used antifreeze may be contaminated with heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, and chromium, and therefore may be considered a hazardous or special waste.
Antifreeze should never be dumped on land, down the storm sewer, or in water. Ethylene glycol can be recycled, which is the best disposal option for waste antifreeze. There are less toxic alternatives to ethylene glycol, including propylene glycol (although such antifreeze after use might still be a hazardous waste because of metals contamination). The Transportation Environmental Resource Center has an antifreeze page. In addition, antifreeze may be regulated at the state level.
There are some green alternatives to common auto repair products. Bio-based products are commercial goods determined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to be composed in whole or in significant part of biological products, forestry materials, or renewable domestic agricultural materials, including plant, animal, or marine materials.