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Proper disposal of hazardous waste is always essential, but particularly during a health crisis

Steven E. Schillinger is a P.E. and PBE consultant in addition to being “actively retired.” He can be reached at and

Though changes to business operations may be unprecedented, compliance is still essential: a national emergency does not provide blanket relief to environmental regulations

Covid-19 has turned the auto service and repair industry upside down. Everything has been impacted — how we live and interact with each other, how we work and communicate, how we move around and travel. Every aspect of our lives has been affected. While some industries are in lockdown, vehicle manufacturers, auto dealers, repair shops, and paint suppliers around the country are already planning the next steps: how to safely reopen and how to operate without transmitting or becoming infected.

Steven Schillinger

Waste is an inevitable by-product during vehicle service and repair. Virtually all automotive activity generates some type of environmental side effect or by-product. When the substances that constitute those by-products are not useful or have been degraded such that they no longer fulfill their original or other obvious useful purpose, they are classified as a waste material.

It is commonly believed that burning and landfill disposal are preferred options in dealing with waste products. However, automotive service and repair waste can be recycled or re-used for another purpose or in another manner. Some parts and paint materials may be reclaimed or re-generated and used again for their original or similar purpose, or they may be physically or chemically changed and employed for alternative uses. As coronavirus concerns become more costly and uncontrollable, numerous economic and social incentives are being promoted by government agencies to prevent or reduce waste generation and develop new methods and technologies for recycling and reusing wastes. Such efforts can have broader implications for sustainable waste management practices.

“Remaining informed during these difficult times can ease concern about the health of the community and, most importantly, the health of people that work in the community.

— Barry Thomas, BECCA Inc

Barry Thomas, president and CEO at BECCA Inc, stated, “Remaining informed during these difficult times can ease concern about the health of the community and, most importantly, the health of people that work in the community. A well thought-out recycling and disposal plan gives the shop owner an opportunity to show customers they are looking out for the environment. Let them know how your organization wants to make a difference for our children and our children’s children.”

From minimizing deforestation to decreasing solvent usage, some pros and cons of the latest auto shop recycling strategies during Covid-19 are listed below.


  • Reduced pollution – A major source of pollution today is waste that comes from the usage of paints, plastics, and alloys. If most of the products were recycled or reconditioned, instead of manufactured from scratch, pollution could be reduced significantly. Recycling also promotes responsible and proper management and disposal practices.
  • Environmental conservation – The use of alternative service and repair products means trees are not cut down and paper products made from certain trees can be re-used. Along with the production of paper from sustainable trees, forests can be preserved before they are wiped out.
  • Energy conservation – The transporting of raw materials involves the use of energy. Processing vehicle service and repair materials also requires a significant amount of energy to get from source to destination. Recycling consumes less energy than processing products.
  • Limited waste – Through recycling, problems associated with landfills can be addressed. A massive amount of non-biodegradable products are thrown in landfills. As they take years or decades to decompose, landfills would not only be filled, but also overflowing. This results inpollution, environmental problems and contamination of water and its surrounding areas, especially because toxins, poisons and chemicals can reach the oceans. Waste in landfills will also seep through soil and contaminate waterways.
  • Environmental conservation – Destruction of paints, plastics and alloys can involve burning waste that leads to greenhouse gas emissions at alarming amounts. Considering the concerns of Covid-19 contamination, doing anything possible to mitigate air pollution would be very beneficial. This includes recycling to keep air pollution at a minimum and reduce waste generation. Converting waste into useful and eco-friendly products would also help mitigate harmful environmental impacts.
  • Spreads awareness – With recently renewed regulations to sort waste into biodegradable, hazardous and recyclable, shop owners are becoming aware of its importance, while reducing the impact of coronavirus at the same time. When everyone becomes accustomed to recycling, people will be more eco-conscious and more involved in protecting the environment.


  • Stringent implementation – Recycling can have an adverse effect on health and the environment when not done properly. Suspected air pollutants and toxics that are improperly handled can contaminate surfaces, air, and the surroundings. This is why more stringent vehicle service and repair practices must be followed.
  • More energy consumption – It’s inconsistent, but the reality is that recycling tons of waste will require waste to be transported, sorted, cleaned and processed in separate factories, all of which need energy and may result in by-products that can pollute air, water or soil. When more trucks are employed to pick up recyclable products, air pollution will also increase.
  • Increased cost – Recycling cost can cost three-times as much as the cost of putting garbage in landfills. This is why it is often considered cost-inefficient, even if it is eco-friendly. The process is also labor intensive.
  • Additional pollutants – When waste materials break down, pollutants, such as toxins, will harm the environment. Toxins and impurities such as paint strippers, could pass through recycling and then carried through the recycled product. Worse, it could take years before we realize that the items we have been using are contaminated. Recycled steel used in buildings in Taiwan, for example, has caused gamma radiation poisoning for the past 12 years.
  • Not guaranteed – Not all recycled items are of high quality or even safe to use. To perform paint stripping, some volatile compounds may be used that are harmful to health and the environment. Recycled products may contain toxic chemicals that were present with the original material.
  • Possibly ineffective – Recycling might result in more pollution, higher energy consumption, and cost-inefficiency, making it less effective than what everyone wants to believe. Recycling has failed to reduce some demands. For example, the demand for aluminum has increased about 10 percent every year, but the amount of recycled aluminum has actually decreased. This means aluminum mining is still necessary.


EPA released significant findings on the economic benefits of the recycling industry with an update to the national Recycling Economic Information Study prior to the coronavirus pandemic. The study analyzes the numbers of jobs, wages and tax revenues attributed to recycling. The 2016 study found that in a single year, recycling and reuse activities in the United States accounted for: 757,000 jobs, $36.6 billion in wages, and $6.7 billion in tax revenues. This equates to 1.57 jobs, $76,000 in wages, and $14,101 in tax revenues for every 1,000 tons of materials recycled.

Proper disposal of hazardous waste is always essential, but particularly during a global public health crisis. Though changes to business operations may be unprecedented, compliance is still essential: a national emergency does not provide blanket relief to environmental regulations.

It is crucial to regularly check updates from state and local agencies to stay informed. Their websites will publish instructions around handling operations remotely, including submitting fees and permits electronically and announcements around enforcement discretion. The CDC and OSHA have released specific waste-related guidance for Covid-19. Regulated waste facilities are equipped to manage all Covid-19-related waste. Hazardous waste, including paint and solvent waste, may need to be rerouted to other properly permitted facilities for disposal.

State agencies as well as The Healthcare Waste Institute have issued guidance for managing Covid-19 waste, while the EPA has published a list of chemicals effective against Covid-19.

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