Aftermarket & the Environment Supplement

Recycling oils & solvents

What automotive aftermarket industry can do to reduce its carbon footprint

By: Usman Valiante

The automotive service sector is a significant source of wastes. These wastes include:

* waste crankcase, transmission and gear oils

* used oil filters

* antifreeze (either ethylene or propylene glycol)

* spent solvents from the "parts washing" of automotive parts prior to repair

* solvents used for paints in auto-body repair, and

* scrap tires.

Aside from oil filters, which are made of steel, all of the above materials are made primarily from crude oil. Recovering, re-using and recycling these materials offer a tremendous opportunity to recover the natural resources and avoid the greenhouse gases (GHGs) associated with manufacture from raw materials.

Crankcase oil

Used crankcase oil can be re-refined back into lubricants. It can also be used for energy recovery in applications with pollution controls (i.e., cement kilns). But, re-refining used crankcase oil back into lubricants is the most environmentally advantageous management option since it:

* uses 1.8 times less primary energy and uses one-thirtieth the natural resources than producing lubricating oil from crude oil

* generates 82% less GHG emissions than burning used oil as a waste-derived fuel, and

* generates up to three times less emissions of heavy metals (including cadmium, chromium, arsenic, and lead) versus burning used oil in pollution uncontrolled devices such as space heaters and boilers.


The rubber required to manufacture one passenger tire emits 69 kilograms of GHGs. Using recycled rubber recovered from scrap tires significantly reduces this amount. Recycling scrap tires back into rubber products also uses less energy than what's used to make synthetic rubber.


Waste antifreeze may contain heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, and chromium in high enough levels to make it a regulated hazardous waste. Antifreeze can be recycled by removing contaminants by filtration, distillation, reverse osmosis, or ion exchange and by restoring critical antifreeze properties with additives. With proper equipment, antifreeze recycling can be done on-site.


Automotive solvents can also be recycled using evaporation and distillation, thus reducing the need for solvents manufactured from raw materials.

Generators of automotive wastes can ensure that their wastes are re-used and recycled to greatest environmental effect by contracting with hazardous/automotive waste collectors and processors who are willing to certify how and where collected materials will be re-used or recycled. Thus automotive waste generators can help to reduce their "carbon footprint".

Usman Valiante is principal of Corporate Policy Group in Orangeville, Ontario. He can be reached at

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