Waste Minimization Opportunities in Vehicle Maintenance and Repair

Automotive maintenance and repair centers have the potential to improve profitability significantly with effective waste minimization strategies. In this article, we provide simple guidance that can help business owners to drive savings across their waste and procurement bills.

These suggestions can be easily incorporated into a general waste minimization plan, which can benefit your business beyond just cost savings and includes an improved image with customers, compliance with regulations, reduced liabilities and lower environmental impacts.

Inventory Control

  • Implement controls for releasing supplies, such as returning empty containers before issuing new supplies.
  • Designate a specific staff member to be responsible for monitoring and coordinating waste management. Agree and set minimization targets for them.
  • Record the current quantities of materials that are sent for recycling, treatment or disposal, and the associated costs of treatment or disposal for each of these streams. This provides a baseline for monitoring waste costs and enables waste management program to be redesigned, with savings easily evidenced.
  • Track the volumes of waste produced against the volumes of materials procured. This highlights potential opportunities for waste minimization, where materials are being excessively wasted.

Improvements to Material Handling

  • Order in bulk wherever possible, and monitor bulk liquid containers periodically for leaks. Use drip pans and funnels to prevent spillages when dispensing these liquids.
  • Inspect all deliveries for signs of damage before accepting them. This will not only help with waste minimization, but will also help with receiving proper credits from your suppliers.
  • Ensure spill kits are readily available throughout the work areas, and that staff members are trained in how to use them effectively. These spill prevention methods will minimize the release of harmful waste products to the environment.
  • Work with suppliers to find opportunities to return drums, containers and other packaging to them, rather than recycling or disposing of them. Alternatively, consider if there is an opportunity to reuse these for another purpose, either in your own operations, or for sale to other businesses.

Solvents and Cleaners

  • Create guidelines for when solvents or other cleaners should be used, and how clean parts need to be for servicing.
  • Utilize precleaning methodologies, such as wire brushing, wiping with a reusable rag, water or detergent washing, and soaking in dirty solvent, before utilizing clean solvents.
  • Use steam cleaners instead of chemical cleaners, or alternative cleaners such as water, detergent, or other environmentally less impactful cleaners.
  • Remove sludges from hot tanks to prolong the life of the fluid.

Automotive Fluids and other Wastes

  • Educate customers on the environmental impact of their own vehicle care practices, such as:
    • Maintaining the correct tire pressure and wheel alignment, in order to extend tire life.
    • Scheduling regular maintenance checks to reduce the potential for fluid leaks and excessive emissions.
  • Consider accepting customers’ used oil and lead-acid batteries as an additional service, or in exchange for the purchase of new products.
  • Use rebuilt parts where appropriate and promote the use of retreaded tires where possible.
  • Consider the use of recycled products for oils, coolant and refrigerant.
  • Recycle fluids and materials such as oils, coolants, filters, metals, core parts, lead-acid batteries and refrigerant.
  • Collect and segregate all waste liquids and materials at source, to make it easier to recycle or reuse them.

Body Repair and Painting

  • Use sweep brooms or vacuums to collect filler dust to avoid flushing it down the sewer.
  • Use biodegradable spray-on masking instead of masking paper.
  • Use paint thickness testers to save on materials and look for low volatile organic (VOC) paints where possible.
  • Consider the use of high efficiency spray equipment and provide operatives with training on the new painting techniques that utilize this equipment.
  • Provide customers with leftover paint for touch-up use.
  • Collect paint and thinner for recycling. If you are painting a large volume of vehicles every month, it may be financially viable to purchase your own recycling unit.

Shop Clean-up

  • Inspect vehicles for leaks and use drip pans as needed for leaks to reduce the need for floor cleaning.
  • Sweep and use a biodegradable detergent for cleaning shop floors. Some shops avoid using detergent altogether by washing down with pressurized water.
  • Test the composition of your sump sludges so that they can be disposed of properly. Sump sludges may contain heavy metals or chlorinated solvents, which are hazardous and require special treatment and disposal as opposed to landfilling.
  • Use a laundry service to clean rags and uniforms.

Employee Training

  • Train employees on how to reduce leaks and spills and how to keep work areas clean.
  • Conduct regular training on material handling, spill prevention, correct storage techniques and waste handling procedures.
  • Consider creating an award program to for employees who identify additional waste minimization opportunities.


There are many solutions that will help automotive repair and maintenance facilities to reduce waste and increase their margins. The challenge is knowing which of these will have the greatest impact in the shortest time, and which will be most readily accepted by your team.

An expert waste management firm will help you identify the strategies best suited to your specific challenges, so that you can be confident they’ll be effective and long-lasting. It will also help individual sites to implement these strategies and generate significant savings for your business.

Want to minimize the volume of waste your sites produce?
Contact our waste experts today at 1-888-692-5005 x6, or email us at sales@nationalwaste.com

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