There’s a dark side to this business — by which I mean there’s dirt and grime involved. Nothing nefarious, unless you are a do-it-yourselfer who doesn’t dispose of your oil properly.
Maybe it’s nuts that I’m bringing this up. It’s one of those things nobody really wants to think about. But as long as we’re driving cars, we should. (And I don’t know about you, but I think it’s pretty hard not to be car-dependent out here.)
The thing is, thinking about waste in this business opens up some possibilities for reducing it and protecting the environment as best we can.
Taking steps in the right direction has become part of what I’ve had to learn as a working mechanic — they’re not practices that existed, for the most part, when I was in school. And they’re part of what you’re paying for when you take your car to a garage for service.
I figure it’s kind of like what happens when you go to a restaurant. Part of what you’re paying for is not what’s on your plate. But you trust certain things will be done properly in the kitchen: you like to think they take care of the grease trap and recycle what can be recycled.
If I remember to do it, I tell my summer customers that it’s worth asking your mechanic back home what kind of steps the garage takes to dispose of waste in the best way possible.
Over time, dirt gets mixed in with your engine oil. After a while, it doesn’t perform well and has to be replaced. I hope do-it-yourselfers have learned not to dump this oil — it’s what they call “persistent,” that is, really slow to degrade. According to the EPA, used oil from one oil change can contaminate one million gallons of fresh water — a year’s supply for 50 people, they say. It should be taken to the transfer station for recycling.
For a while now, we’ve been keeping the used oil we drain from cars on-site in a double-walled tank. We’re using an EPA-approved process for recycling it — and using it to heat the building in the winter.
We buy clean motor oil in bulk so that we’re not back here cracking open hundreds of plastic bottles of motor oil that are probably not really recyclable. We have a cardboard recycling container. Anti-freeze that gets pumped out also gets recycled — a company comes to the shop and picks it up.
Batteries, tires, brakes — all those things that get replaced in your cars — have to be properly disposed of, too. Essentially, that means being organized and paying up. We are registered to handle hazardous waste, and the state Dept. of Environmental Protection makes an estimate of what volume we produce and charges us accordingly.
Having this on my mind is one reason I nag people to keep their cars in good condition. Your car is going to run cleaner and last longer that way.
Have I gone soft? I don’t think so. I still do love internal combustion engines. I know that’s not going to change. But I will admit I did order myself a new bicycle earlier this summer. At least it has wheels, brakes, and gears. It hasn’t arrived yet, though. I hope it gets here before winter sets in. I will keep you posted.