Although many people do it, it’s never been okay to dispose of hazardous waste by dumping it in the gutter or on the ground. Get caught doing it by the wrong people (as in police officers or health officials) and you’re in for a very nasty and costly surprise. The penalty can range in places from a simple fine of a few hundred dollars, up to fines of several thousand dollars and jail time. From what I’ve seen, the closer you get to either a drinking water supply, like a well or reservoir, or to the ocean, the stiffer the penalties become.

Oil & Oil Filters

If you change your own oil then you’ve probably faced the aftermath of what to do with the old gunk. I’ve seen houses with several containers of used oil lined up along the side because many beginning DIYers don’t know what to do with it but know enough not to dump it onto the ground. According to Popular Mechanics, there are around 750 million gallons of used motor oil recycled in this country every year, and it takes only 1 gallon of improperly disposed oil to contaminate a million gallons of groundwater.

  • Collect the oil in a plastic container with a secure cap. Milk jugs, juice and soda bottles work fine. Don’t use metal containers or ones that you’ve used before to collect anything other than motor oil.
  • Oil filters are also recyclable so be sure to drain it as much as possible by punching a hole through the top and inverting it over your drain pan for a few hours or even overnight. Then put it in a plastic bag.
  • In most states, shops that do oil changes are required to take limited amounts of used oil from the public. They’ll recycle it for you along with their other waste or use it in their waste oil heaters. Another option is to check with your local car parts retailer. If they sell oil, they’re usually also required to accept used motor oil from customers – up to the amount they originally sold. Finally, your township may have their own oil collection sites and curbside recycling programs. Regardless of the disposal method you choose, it’s considerate to call ahead instead of just showing up with your nasty oil and find out about any fees ahead of time.
  • For best recycling practices, try to get the old oil dropped off no more than a week after your oil change because if used oil sits for long periods of time, oxidation takes place and the oil can’t be as easily re-refined to recycled motor oil.


In the not-too-distant past, old coolant was used as an effective weed killer around the house or simply flushed out onto the driveway with a hose where it ran into gutters and storm drains. But as its toxicity and danger to wildlife and children became well-known, sophisticated recycling methods were developed to prevent it from contaminating soil and water.

  • Use a clean pan or jug and funnel to catch the coolant because just a few drops of oil or brake fluid left in your container from a previous job will limit its ability to be recycled.
  • Even if you’ve already drained your coolant into a proper receptacle, never run a hose through your radiator to flush out the remainder. Instead, refill your radiator with distilled water and run it for a few minutes. Catch all of the distilled water/remaining coolant mix when you drain it a second time. You can either repeat this process one more time if you feel you need to or do a final refill with the proper coolant mix.
  • Most shops or dealerships recycle coolant and will accept small amounts either at no charge or a small fee. Larger shops will usually have coolant recycling machines on site that distill the glycol out of the old coolant and with an additive package they can reuse it as if it were new.
  • Another option is to check with your local municipal facility. They can notify you about local recycling programs – and don’t be surprised if they tell you it’s fine to pour antifreeze down your drain or toilet. If your house drain is connected to a municipal waste water treatment system, nearly all these systems can remove antifreeze from waste water. Just never throw it into a septic tank, storm sewer or dump it on the ground.

Other Fluids

Brake, transmission and power steering fluids can be recycled or disposed of much like motor oil by taking it to your local shop or service station, or participating in your township’s recycling program. The biggest challenge that recyclers face is cross-contamination of different fluids so be sure to use a separate clean container for each type of fluid you collect.

Waste Oil Heaters

If you live in one of the Northern States, chances are you’re not going to stop working on your baby just because of a little cold. Heck, that’s what garages are for, right? However, even you will have to admit that working when it’s warm is much more pleasant – just like a cold beer is more enjoyable when there aren’t icicles hanging from the rafters.

Most hazardous automotive waste fluids are flammable and fires give off heat. So, look around for a used waste oil heater. Hang it in the corner away from anything else that’s flammable, feed it your automotive hazardous wastes, and you’ll be nice and toasty and environmentally responsible throughout the frosty cold winter months.

Photo credit: Robert.Montalvo