Reducing Hazardous Waste - BodyShop Business

Reducing Hazardous Waste

Managing waste should be done with the same care and attention to detail as any other integral part of your business because, after all, it affects your bottom line.

Collision repair shop wastes very likely include hazardous waste, and any business activity
that generates any amount of hazardous waste is subject to regulations
and liabilities for licensing, proper collection, storage and
disposal of waste.

Autobody hazardous wastes include:

  • Paint-thinner waste
  • Waste paint
  • Paint filters, dust and floor sweepings.

These wastes are assumed to be hazardous unless evaluated otherwise.
Managing these wastes properly and taking steps to reduce them
will reduce raw-material costs, waste-disposal costs, your regulatory
costs and obligations, and long-term liability.

Note: Other wastes from damaged vehicles, such as oils, antifreeze
and mercury switches, may require proper management under your
state’s hazardous-waste rules. Spray painting and cleaning with
volatile solvents or recovering air-conditioner refrigerant may
have requirements under your state’s air-quality rules.

Management Options

Collect and manage all waste separately.

Mixing hazardous and nonhazardous waste unnecessarily adds to
your regulatory recordkeeping requirements, as well as labor and
disposal costs. The techniques described below are effective ways
to reduce and manage hazardous materials commonly found in an
autobody shop.

Paint Thinner

Using solvent to clean spray guns, lines, paint cups, and booth
and vehicle surfaces may be the single biggest source of hazardous
waste in your shop. Think about ways to minimize cleanup waste
and the need for cleaning. Use less volatile cleaners to minimize
evaporative loss, and use coverings – paper, foil or masking liquids
– to minimize the need to clean those surfaces later.

Cleaning Solvents

Solvents used to clean spray guns can be reused. Simple, closed
containers can provide a workstation for manual cleaning. For
mechanical cleaning, use closed gun-washing devices that may be
purchased or leased. Gun washers quickly clean spray-painting
equipment with a minimal amount of solvent, which can be reused
without it evaporating. Operating the gun washer properly will
help extend the life of the solvent by gravity separation of the
clean solvent from the dirty solvent.

Using two solvent baths will extend total solvent life even further.
The first bath does the initial cleaning, and the second provides
the final rinse in preparation for painting. The solution in the
second bath will last much longer with the lighter cleaning duty
and can replace the solution in the first bath when disposal of
that bath is necessary.


Spent solvent that becomes too dirty for cleaning can be reclaimed
in a distillation device. Distillation uses heat to separate clean
solvent from contaminants. Distillation recovers most of the solvent
for reuse, but also produces a hazardous-waste sludge or "still
bottoms." In addition, it changes the makeup of solvent blends
because of the way different solvents are recovered in the process.

Distillation is more feasible when using large amounts of one
or two solvents, rather than small amounts of numerous solvents
or solvent blends. Ask a distillation-equipment vendor for recommendations.
Additional considerations include:

  • Operating costs: utilities, labor, sludge bags, gaskets and
    hazardous-waste sludge (still bottoms) disposal.

  • Preapproval: Make sure the local fire department or other
    local authorities (such as a building inspector) and your insurance
    carrier approve of purchasing the still and of the installation
    location selected.

Off-Site Recycling

Large amounts of solvent waste may be sent off site for recycling.
Various combustible liquids (oils and solvents) can also be combined
into an alternative fuel for some permitted industrial applications.
Both off-site solvent recycling and fuel-blending options reuse
the waste and typically cost less than outright disposal because
of the heat (BTU) value of the liquid waste. Any sludges and nonpumpable
solids will increase handling, packaging and disposal costs.

Solvent-Waste Reduction

In other solvent cleaning operations, use plunger cans to provide
the proper amount of liquid and prevent excessive use and evaporation.
Consider using reusable aerosol containers that are filled with
cleaners purchased in bulk and charged with clean compressed air.
This method reduces purchasing costs and avoids aerosol-can disposal
(possibly as hazardous waste).


Any paint that’s not satisfactorily applied to a part the first
time contributes to a shop’s waste. The following combination
of ideas can make a painting operation more efficient:

  • Use the most efficient spray equipment available. Spray-paint
    equipment that is properly set up, adjusted and operated by trained
    and experienced painters will generate the least amount of paint
    overspray (waste). To protect against overspray, liquid masking
    applies quickly and reduces most of the paper waste caused by
    paper masking.

High-volume low-pressure (HVLP) gravity-fed spray guns with Teflon-lined
cups are very effective choices. Transfer efficiency is very good,
and cleanup is minimal. Paint doesn’t stick to the container surface;
instead, it drains completely to the spray gun for application.

  • Manage paint inventory properly. Stock and properly store
    only what you need, and mix the least amount required for a job.
    Computerized mixing equipment can precisely mix recipes that contain
    as little as 1/16 of a pint. For inventory no longer needed, find
    other appropriate uses for the paint, such as using it as a primer
    or mix component, or make arrangements to donate it to technical-college
    training classes.

  • Train your painters. Equipment vendors often will provide
    training to help maximize the investment in their equipment and
    are appropriate resources to help you keep pace with new and versatile
    coatings, technologies and industry trends.

Paint Filters, Dust and Floor Sweepings

Any paint-related waste materials, whether it’s separate or in
mixtures, can be hazardous waste and must be managed according
to hazardous-waste rules. These materials include dry booth filters,
water booth sludge, paint-contaminated rags and floor sweepings.
When evaluating wastes, include operating procedures; material
safety data sheet (MSDS) information and, more importantly, any
written certification from paint manufacturers about their products;
and lab analysis using the Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure

To reduce the cost of managing paint-related hazardous waste,
try to limit the types of different products used. Manufacturer
information on product content is relatively useless once indiscriminate
mixing of various wastes has occurred, and this combined waste
from different products generally requires costly testing to determine
whether the mixture is subject to hazardous-waste rules. In addition,
certain contaminants (such as chlorinated solvents) can make mixed
wastes hazardous, which limits disposal options and increases

One way to reduce filter waste is to use a reusable dry booth
filter made of foam material as an alternative to paper or fiberglass
filters. The foam filters may be dissolved in thinner, thereby
eliminating a separate waste. However, filtering efficiency may
be slightly lower. In addition, your local fire marshal must approve
the installation of this type of filter.

Other Options

Dust: Autobody repair activities create sanding dust that
settles everywhere. Dust affects production rates and finished
products. Suppress and collect dust as much as possible by using
vacuum sanding equipment to maximize a shop’s efficiency and to
minimize waste. Even small, portable dust collectors do an effective
job of collecting dust and saving cleanup labor costs. In large
systems, don’t forget to factor in air-exchange utility needs
for winter heating and summer cooling.

Packaging Waste: Reduce packaging wherever possible to
minimize solid-waste disposal costs. Ask local parts distributors
to reuse and reduce packaging to reduce costs for both you and
your distributor. Where reduction and reuse are not possible,
recycle. Ask your recycler about the best and most profitable
way to prepare your recyclables, such as crushing paint cans or
baling cardboard.

Overall Wastes: Take a look around your shop for other
sources of wastes. Check the hazardous-waste storage area and
look in the dumpster. Ask yourself, "Why do we have this
waste, and what can we do to reduce or eliminate it?" Talk
with your employees and encourage their ideas for reducing waste.

At Your Fingertips

You don’t always need special equipment to reduce waste. Take
a hard look at your general housekeeping, and take advantage of
information and ideas available from other shops, suppliers and
trade associations. Simple organization and upkeep of your shop
can result in significant waste reduction and are important to
your image, employee safety, labor costs – and profits.

Information provided by the Minnesota Technical Assistance
Program. Wastes in this article were assumed hazardous by the
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. For the laws specific to your
state, contact your state’s Small Business Ombudsman Office (see
SBO Contacts)

SBO Contacts


Small Business Ombudsman

Blake Roper

(334) 271-7950 (800) 533-2336

Small Business Ombudsman

Priscilla Wow

Small Business Advocate

(907) 269-7500 (800) 510-2332

Small Business Ombudsman

Martin Todd Dorris

(602) 207-4337

(800) 234-5677, ext. 4337

Small Business Ombudsman

Robert Graham

(501) 682-0708

Small Business Ombudsman

James Schoning

(916) 323-6791 or

South Coast

La Ronda Bowen

Public Advisor

(909) 396-3235 (800) 388-2121

Small Business Ombudsman

Jocelyn Mills

(303) 894-7839 (800) 333-7798

Small Business Ombudsman

Tracy Babbidge

(860) 424-3382

Small Business Ombudsman

George Pelitgout

(302) 739-6400
District of Columbia

Small Business Ombudsman

Henry Lopez

(202) 645-6617, ext. 3087

Small Business Ombudsman and Program Administrator

Joe Schlessel

(904) 488-1344 (800) 722-7457

Small Business Ombudsman

Marvin Lowry

(404) 363-7020

Not listed

Small Business Ombudsman

Doug McRoberts

(208) 373-0497

Small Business Ombudsman

Don Squires

(217) 785-1625

Small Business Ombudsman

Mike O’Connor

(317) 233-8165 (800) 451-6027

Small Business Ombudsman

Kristie Hirschman

(515) 281-3592 (800) 358-5510

Environmental Ombudsman

Janet Neff

(913) 296-0669 (800) 357-6087

Small Business Ombudsman

Rose Marie Wilmoth

(502) 564-3354 (800) 926-8111

Small Business Ombudsman

John Dykes

(504) 922-3252 (800) 256-1488

Small Business Ombudsman

Ron Dyer

(207) 287-4152 (800) 453-1942

Small Business Ombudsman

John Mitchell

(410) 631-3003

(800) 633-6101, ext. 3172

Small Business Ombudsman

George Frantz

(617) 727-3260, ext. 631

Small Business Ombudsman

Gregory Burkart

(517) 335-1847

Small Business Ombudsman

Laurel Mezner

(612) 297-8615

Small Business Ombudsman

Jesse Thompson

(601) 961-5171 (800) 725-6112

Small Business Ombudsman

Brad Ketcher

General Counsel

(314) 751-3222

Small Business Ombudsman

Mark Lambrecht

(406) 444-2960 (800) 433-8773

Small Business Ombudsman

Dan Eddinger

Public Advocate

(402) 471-34133

Small Business Ombudsman

Marcia Manley

(702) 687-4670

(800) 992-0900, ext. 4670
New Hampshire

Small Business Ombudsman

Rudolph Cattier

(603) 271-1381 (800) 837-0656
New Jersey

Small Business Ombudsman

John Serkies

(609) 633-7308 (800) 643-6090
New Mexico

Small Business Ombudsman

Edgar Thornton

(505) 827-2836 (800) 879-3421
New York

Small Business Ombudsman

Doreen Monteleone

Supervisor, Division of Small

Business Environmental Ombudsman

(212) 803-2282

(800) 782-8369, ext. 157
North Carolina

Small Business Ombudsman

Edythe McKinney

(919) 733-1267
North Dakota

Small Business Ombudsman

Jeff Burgess

(701) 328-5153 (800) 755-1625

Small Business Ombudsman

Mark Shanahan

(614) 224-3383

Small Business Ombudsman

Steve Thompson

Deputy Executive Director

(405) 271-8056

Small Business Ombudsman

Paul Bumet

(503) 229-5776 (800) 452-4011

Small Business Ombudsman

Dick Segrave-Daly

(717) 772-2889
Puerto Rico

Small Business Ombudsman

Juan Woodroffe

(809) 728-5585
Rhode Island

Small Business Ombudsman

Roger Green

(401) 277-2771
South Carolina

Small Business Ombudsman

Robin Stephens

(803) 734-6487 (800) 819-9001
South Dakota

Small Business Ombudsman

Joe D. Nadenicek

(605) 773-3151 (800) 438-3367

Small Business Ombudsman

Ernest Blankenship

(615) 532-0734

Small Business Ombudsman

Tamra Shae-Oatman

Small Business Advocate

(512) 239-1062 (800) 447-2827

Small Business Ombudsman

Tamra Wharton

(801) 536-4231
West Virginia

Small Business Ombudsman

Kenneth Shaw

(304) 558-1213 (800) 247-2474

Small Business Ombudsman

Roger Nacker

(608) 266-1386 (608) 435-7274

Small Business Ombudsman

Kelly Pelissier

(307) 777-7388

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