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How to Dispose of Antifreeze Properly

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Author: ACTenviro
Date: May 30, 2024

After finishing a coolant flush on your vehicle, you're left with a container of used antifreeze. But what should you do next? Ah, pour it on the ground or into the roadside gutter.

But wait! Do you know that disposing of antifreeze improperly can cause significant environmental harm? And that's not all. As an automotive chemical, it can be dangerous to human health.

Therefore, it's important to understand and follow the proper way to discard it to avoid serious problems.

Let's discuss the right steps to follow in getting rid of used antifreeze responsibly.

What is Antifreeze?

Antifreeze is an important automotive fluid. It is added to a vehicle's radiator to regulate the engine's temperature. It is essential for preventing the engine from overheating in the summer and freezing in the winter. 

Primarily, antifreeze helps maintain an optimal engine temperature by absorbing heat from the vehicle's engine and blowing that heat off through the radiator. 

Understanding the Composition of Antifreeze

Antifreeze is primarily made of either ethylene glycol or propylene glycol mixed with water and various additives. Let's break its ingredients down:

  • Ethylene Glycol (C2H6O2)
    • Description: A colorless, odorless, sweet-tasting liquid
    • Properties: Highly effective at lowering the freezing point and raising the boiling point of the coolant mixture. It is highly toxic if ingested
  • Propylene Glycol (C3H8O2)
    • Description: A colorless, odorless liquid with a slightly sweet taste
    • Properties: Similar to ethylene glycol in its antifreeze capabilities but is considered less toxic. Still, you don't want to gulp down a propylene glycol-based antifreeze. 

Antifreeze has additives to make it even more effective. 

  • Corrosion inhibitors such as silicates, phosphates, and organic acids protect the metal components of the engine and radiator from rust and corrosion. 
  • Anti-foaming agents prevent foam from forming, which can hamper the coolant’s ability to transfer heat effectively.
  • Dyes give the antifreeze its characteristic green, orange, pink, or yellow color to help spot leaks easily and distinguish between different types of antifreeze.
  • pH buffers maintain the coolant at an optimal pH level, so it does not become too acidic or alkaline. Otherwise, the coolant can damage engine components.

Typically, antifreeze is mixed with water in a 50:50 ratio. This mixture ensures optimal freezing and boiling point characteristics.

But why not just use water? After all, it's free, non-toxic, and has high heat capacity.  People once used water to cool down the combustion engines of their cars. Well, there are several reasons:

  • Water boils at 100°C (212°F). However, the heat of an engine can rise higher than this temperature. Antifreeze raises the boiling point, reducing the risk of the coolant from boiling over in very high temperatures.
  • Water freezes at 0°C (32°F). Frozen water in the radiator or the cooling system can cause engine damage. Antifreeze lowers the freezing point significantly, preventing the coolant from freezing in cold temperatures. 
  • Water may not be able to maintain thermal stability under extreme conditions. Antifreeze helps maintain temperature stability by ensuring efficient heat transfer.
  • Water can cause engine parts to rust. Antifreeze contains additives that protect metal parts from rust and corrosion.
  • Water does not provide any lubrication. Antifreeze has additives that lubricate the moving parts of the engine's cooling system.
  • Water cavitates as it boils which can damage engine components. Antifreeze does not boil, which reduces the risk of cavitation.

How to Safely Dispose of Used Antifreeze

image of various containers for hazardous waste

Proper antifreeze disposal is needed to protect human health, prevent accidents, and reduce negative environmental impact. It's easy to properly and safely dispose of antifreeze; the challenge is to keep the process in mind:

  1. Check your local regulations: Different areas have specific regulations and facilities for hazardous waste disposal. Contact your local waste management authority or environmental protection agency to understand the guidelines and available disposal options for antifreeze.
  2. Contain the antifreeze: Store used antifreeze in a clean, leak-proof, and clearly labeled container. Ideally, use the original antifreeze container. If this is unavailable---perhaps you already threw it away, use another suitable plastic container with a tight-fitting lid. Check out the section "Container Specifications" below.

    Keep the container away from the reach of children and pets. Clean up spills right away.
  3. Avoid mixing the antifreeze: Never mix antifreeze with other hazardous substances such as oil, gasoline, or other automotive fluids as this may cause unwanted chemical reactions. It could also make disposal more complicated than it should.
  4. Transport the container safely: Make sure the container is securely closed and placed upright in your vehicle to prevent spills during transport. Drive smoothly and avoid sudden stops or sharp turns that could cause the container to tip over.
  5. Locate a recycling or disposal facility: Go to your local recycling center or waste collection site where you can hand over your antifreeze containers. You can also check out waste management services such as ACTenviro. ACTenviro offers universal waste processing services for proper disposal of your antifreeze. 
  6. Dispose at the facility: Follow the instructions for dropping off the antifreeze. Some facilities may have designated areas or staff to assist with the disposal process.

Container Specifications

When storing used antifreeze, you need to use a container designed to handle hazardous liquids. Here's a handy guideline of what you should look for in a container:

  1. Material: Look for containers made of High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE). This type of plastic is durable, resistant to chemicals, and commonly used for storing hazardous liquids.
  2. UN Approved: Look for containers that are UN-approved for transporting hazardous materials. These containers will have specific UN markings indicating their suitability for hazardous liquids.
  3. DOT Specifications: Containers should comply with Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations for hazardous materials, ensuring they are safe for transport.
  4. Capacity: Choose a container size that matches the amount of used antifreeze you need to store. Common sizes range from 1 gallon to 5 gallons. Larger containers are available and can be used for commercial purposes.
  5. Tight-sealing Lid: The container should have a tight-sealing lid or cap to prevent leaks, spills, and evaporation of the antifreeze. The lid should have a rubber or silicone seal.
  6. Clear Labels: Use containers with clearly marked labels to prevent accidental misuse. Or you can apply your label indicating that the contents are "Used Antifreeze." 
  7. Opaque or Colored: Use opaque or dark-colored containers to reduce the risk of photodegradation of the antifreeze if it is stored for an extended period.
  8. Reusable: Choose containers that can be cleaned and reused for future storage of used antifreeze or other automotive fluids.

Potential Hazards of Improper Antifreeze Disposal

Due to the ingredients and additives, antifreeze is considered a hazardous substance under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, particularly when it contains ethylene glycol. OSHA classifies ethylene glycol as hazardous because it poses considerable health risks if swallowed, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin. Exposure to ethylene glycol can lead to headaches, dizziness, and nausea. It could damage the central nervous system, kidneys, and liver in severe cases.

These are just the health hazards. Improper antifreeze disposal can also lead to other hazards

  • Water contamination: Antifreeze poured down the drain can enter rivers, lakes, and streams, contaminating drinking water sources and harming aquatic life. Where does antifreeze go if you simply pour it on the soil? That's not safe either. It can leach into the soil and contaminate groundwater. Groundwater is a source of drinking water for many communities.  
  • Soil contamination: The chemicals in antifreeze can be toxic to plants and soil organisms.
  • Air pollution: Antifreeze can release volatile organic compounds into the air when spilled or improperly burned.
  • Toxic to pets and wildlife: The sweet taste of ethylene glycol makes it especially dangerous to pets and wildlife. Even small amounts of antifreeze can be fatal to animals.

Improper antifreeze disposal can also hurt the local economy.

  • Cleanup costs: Cleaning contaminated water and soil is extremely costly and significantly curtails the local budget.
  • Public health expenses: Treating poisoning and other health issues related to antifreeze exposure can lead to significant medical expenses for affected individuals and communities.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Disposing of Antifreeze

When disposing of antifreeze, it’s important to avoid common mistakes that can lead to environmental contamination, health risks, and legal issues. Here are some common mistakes to avoid:

  • Pouring antifreeze down the drain: This can lead to water contamination, harming aquatic life and contaminating drinking water sources.
  • Directly dumping on the ground: This can disrupt the local ecosystem and reduce the soil's fertility.
  • Mixing with other substances: Violent chemical reactions can occur when chemicals are mixed. These reactions can be injurious or toxic.
  • Using improper containers: This increases the risk of spills and exposure.
  • Ignoring local regulations: Improper disposal can result in fines and legal penalties.
  • Burning antifreeze: Burning antifreeze releases toxic fumes and pollutants into the air.
  • Not labeling containers: Unlabeled containers can lead to misuse, accidents, or improper disposal.
  • Delaying disposal: Storing used antifreeze for too long increases the risk of container leaks and accidental exposure.
  • Ignoring safety precautions: Direct contact or prolonged exposure to antifreeze can cause severe health issues.

Where Can You Dispose of Antifreeze

ACTenviro facade

Knowing the hazards of improper antifreeze disposal, you want to dispose of used antifreeze responsibly. There are several options for where you can dispose of antifreeze:

  • Automotive repair shops: Many auto repair shops and service centers accept used antifreeze for recycling or disposal. Call the nearest one to your home and ask if they accept used antifreeze.
  • Recycling centers: Some recycling centers accept antifreeze as part of their hazardous waste collection programs. Check with your local recycling facility to see if they accept antifreeze. 
  • Household hazardous waste (HHW) facilities: Many communities have HHW facilities specifically for the disposal of hazardous materials like antifreeze. You can search "disposal of antifreeze near me" to check out nearby locations.
  • Municipal waste disposal services: Some municipalities offer special collection programs or drop-off locations for hazardous waste. Check your local government’s website or contact their waste disposal department for information.
  • Environmental agencies: State or local environmental protection agencies can provide you with resources and information on where to safely dispose of antifreeze. Check out their websites for a list of approved disposal facilities or programs.
  • Hazardous waste management firms: Private firms such as ACTenviro can help you in disposing of hazardous waste such as antifreeze. These companies often have treatment, storage, and disposal facilities that are specifically designed and secured for handling and processing such waste. 

Best Practices for Recycling Antifreeze

Instead of antifreeze disposal, another way that you can get rid of your used antifreeze is to have it recycled. Recycling antifreeze is an environmentally responsible way to handle this hazardous substance. 

  1. Collect antifreeze properly as stated above.
  2. Check local regulations. Different areas have specific guidelines and regulations for recycling antifreeze. Check with your local waste management authority to know and understand these requirements. 
  3. Locate a recycling facility. Use resources like Earth911 or contact your local waste management authority to find approved antifreeze recycling centers or hazardous waste facilities.
  4. Waste management firms like ACTenviro offer a vast array of recycling services. This is another good option.
  5. Recycle responsibly. When you arrive at the recycling facility, follow their protocols for dropping off used antifreeze.

Conclusion

Antifreeze is healthy for your car. But it is detrimental to the environment. And it endangers your health.

Disposing of antifreeze correctly is important for both the safety of our environment and public health. Follow the guidelines set by your local authority. Follow the correct procedures, steer clear of common errors, and recycle whenever feasible. Your contribution to responsible disposal practices has a significant effect on preserving human health and our environment.

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