Disposing of hazardous waste is one of the biggest challenges a fleet manager faces today. Yet, in many ways, governmental fleet managers are setting an example the private sector can emulate.

Eliminating Wasteful Ways

San Diego County’s approach is to "not generate waste in the first place," said John Clements, manager of fleet operations for more than 4,000 vehicles in the County. Clements and his staff have established programs focused on efficiently using recycled products when possible.

The city of Portland, Ore., has taken waste disposal another step further by simply reducing the hazardous materials its fleet management group purchases.

"We’ve done that by switching to a parts cleaner, for example, that uses nonhazardous materials," said Jeff Scholz, training and safety coordinator. "As long as we don’t get a cleaner full of benzene or chrome, it washes off as a waste, but not a hazardous waste. In many ways, we’ve been able to adhere to a more green philosophy just by making smarter, more informed decisions."

Recycling is the Way to Go

San Diego County operates eight maintenance locations throughout the county, and all county fleet facilities have been converted to water-based cleaners. Vehicles use re-refined oil as part of a closed-loop process. A vendor collects old oil and replaces it with newly refined oil when possible. Not all oils offer such an option.

"The intent with this strategy, and with all of our fleet strategies, is to be as green and eco-friendly as possible," Clements said.

San Diego County also recycles antifreeze. Plant maintenance professionals return used antifreeze to the vendor, providing the County with recycled product.

Recapped tires are used on all heavy-duty, county-owned trucks. Old tire casings are recycled. State law in California also dictates recycling oil filters, a process San Diego followed before the state law was enacted.

All County facilities have shied away from solvent-based cleaning in recent years. The facilities have high-pressure washers and steam cleaners, but the waste water is filtered before entering storm drains.

Such environmentally friendly hazardous waste strategies are possible in San Diego largely because the County’s parts department is privatized with NAPA. The parts company insists that recycled battery and part cores are used, Clements said. Through NAPA, San Diego County also recycles all scrap metal.

In all, San Diego County calls on eight vendors to help recycle parts, lubricants, and other components. Yet the process requires little extra staff effort, Clements said.

"We just need to set up the initial contract with the purchasing department defining a specification, but it’s usually a fairly simple process," Clements said. "From there, it becomes second nature and is a best practice initiative. We know things don’t go into the dumpster. We try not to generate it in the first place and try to get in the recycled arena."


Reinforcing the Environment

Long before environmental protection and recycling became popular on a national scale, the City of Portland’s fleet division was involved in basic recycling and hazardous waste disposal techniques. Much of those efforts were based on the 1989 Oregon legislation, Toxics Use Reduction and Hazardous Waste Reduction Act.

The first of its kind in the country, the act directed all businesses, industries, and government entities in the state to prepare waste reduction plans. Used motor oil, scrap metal, and defective vehicle parts were just a few examples of waste materials sent for recycling, rebuilding, or reuse. Additionally the City’s strategies helped to improve employee safety while reducing environmental impact and costs.

"We examined all toxic chemicals in use by our department and determined that dozens of chemicals were unnecessary," Scholz said. "They were all removed from our garages."

Vendors were consulted to determine what new non- or less-toxic formulations were available to substitute for products in use at the time, Scholz added.

Among the City’s changes, trichloroethylene spray cleaners were replaced by hydrocarbon-based cleaners, carburetor dip tanks were eliminated, less hazardous parts cleaning systems were embraced, and extended change intervals were instituted.

High-volume, low-pressure (HVLP) paint guns replaced less efficient units in the City’s body shop. Smoke scrubbers were purchased and are used regularly. Aqueous cleaners are used when appropriate, particularly for brake parts. Storage tanks were handled in a more environmentally friendly manner. The City removed all underground oil storage tanks for fresh and used oil, and implemented a fuel storage tank monitoring and service program.

The City also now routinely reviews all disposable materials. Its waste streams increased once disposing began.

"We have other practices we engage in — rules to drain parts and the parts washers," Scholz said. "We don’t drag parts or other materials across the floor to prevent waste leaking onto the ground. We use fewer sprays and emphasize the health and safety aspect in everything we do."

Portland’s fleet staff training regimen provides regularly-scheduled education and updates on initiatives related to safe hazardous waste disposal, Scholz said. A new employee is first introduced to department policies during a comprehensive orientation process that includes a significant hazardous materials educational component. The department also holds regular hazardous-materials training courses throughout the year for existing staff. Training results are tracked and recorded.

"We have policies in place for cleaning up spills and taking care of such problems," Scholz said. "We have a chemical approval policy before anything is brought into the fleet."

Electronically generated material safety data sheets are required of all personnel. The documents can be scanned and posted on the City’s Intranet. All shop personnel receive daily shop tips during morning meetings, and hazardous waste informational material is regularly updated.

Supervisors track a daily shift log and the results are recorded for anyone to review, Scholz added.

While the City of Portland’s fleet management department doesn’t try to convince every staff member of the important impact of environmentally responsible procedures, Scholz feels getting staff to "own the concept" is better than simply instituting another operational requirement. Portland waste disposal policies carry the weight of possible discipline, but rarely is the department required to enforce penalties.

"We want our staff to learn and then promote the benefits of our approach," Scholz said. "In general, environmental issues have become more important to more people. You can tell in the last few years there is more natural concern over this topic with our own employees."

The City of Portland is involved in the Automotive Shops Programs, part of a regional Eco-Logical Business Program supported by the City and other Oregon public agencies. The Portland fleet shop is certified as an ecologically friendly shop, part of a larger effort throughout City departments and private businesses promoted throughout the community.

"It is an honor to be included as part of this certification, and we want all private shops to be involved in these programs," Scholz said.

Certification requires meeting a worksheet of topics. A separate list of electives is also recommended. Portland was first certified in 1999 and recertified in 2006. ‘The certification encourages business and public entities to adhere to the appropriate business practices," Scholz said.


Reducing Pollution

San Diego County developed a unique strategy to deal with water and toxic pollutant runoff into the water supply. The County’s 50,000 square-foot main repair facility is surrounded by porous pavement that filters runoff before it hits general drainage flows.

Before establishing a pollution prevention program, the Lee County, Fla., fleet vehicle maintenance operations annually disposed of more than 2,150 lbs. of hazardous waste, including petroleum-based solvents from parts cleaning and automotive fluids.

Costly Resource Conservation and Recovery Act violations and other requirements prompted Lee County officials to help fleet management discover more efficient ways to achieve compliance. The County engaged in purchasing changes, recycling, and other waste reduction techniques that reduce its hazardous waste generation to zero, saving nearly $17,000 annually in waste disposal cost avoidance.

Lee County avoids the use of highlyvolatile organic compound petroleum-based solvents, especially chlorinated solvents. Other product substitutions and process changes Lee County implements included:

• Replacing chlorinated-solvent brake cleaner with a non-chlorinated, petroleum solvent.

• Replacing aerosol spray cans with refillable, air-pressured dispensers.

• Recycling rags used for final wipe- down. The rags are laundered by a private service, avoiding hazardous waste requirements regarding rag disposal. The laundry service uses a cleaning process that includes an oil-water separator in which used oil is extracted and recycled.

• Replacing parts cleaners with a petroleum-based wash and filtration system, eliminating cross contamination among solvents. Soiled filters from the process are considered solid waste as long as they are changed frequently enough to avoid heavy metal buildup from mechanical parts during washing.

• Installing in-house recycling equipment for antifreeze and Freon reclamation, reducing disposal of used antifreeze from 250 gallons to less than 10 per year.

• Outsourcing transmission repair and paint and body work.

• Replacing single "catch-all" receptacles for auto fluids and parts cleaning waste with several separate, clearly marked waste receptacles.

To build support for effective hazardous waste disposal strategies, Lee County implemented incentives, including direct bonuses to staff. The Environmental Services team also provided waste reduction training to fleet management staff and coordinated ongoing training sessions on new equipment and procedures.


Waste Disposal Costs Can be Low

These environmentally friendly ways of hazardous waste disposal don’t require a significant budget commitment or cost increase. Re-refined oil, for example, isn’t a major cost to San Diego County’s fleet operations, according to Clements. The strategies also have not significantly increased maintenance costs.

"We’re a billable-hour organization, so we are a private sector shop and our staff knows the clock is running. For us, there are deadlines and because of this (efficient) process there are some savings for our customers," Clements said.

"We balance what we do in-house and what we contract out to the private sector. Sometimes it’s painful to be on the bleeding edge with waste costs, but as a governmental entity we need to set a good example," he added.

"It becomes a business practice. You won’t see green facilities necessarily from a solar standpoint, but we try to do our part," Clements said.

San Diego County is seeking certification from California’s Model Shop Program. Vehicle repair facilities can be certified from the state as an automotive repair shop for government or private sector.

Delaware Provides Assistance

The Delaware Pollution Prevention and Compliance Assistance Program helps governmental agencies and private businesses and residents properly dispose of hazardous wastes of all kinds, including vehicle operations waste. Program spokesman Michael Globetti said the most important guidelines his organization offers concern disposing of needless waste.

Among its general pollutions prevention tips, the program advises agencies and individuals to use up all purchased hazardous materials. Partially filled containers should not be disposed where they can seep into other materials and do additional damage. The program points out that these containers are often plastic and nearly always recyclable.

Ten years ago, vehicle waste was commonly poured into storm drains, sewers, septic systems, or simply on the ground. Those methods are among the most damaging ways to dispose of hazardous wastes, Globetti said.

"You need to have a plan of where to dispose and store such materials," Globetti said, adding that statewide Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) offices are available to help answer any questions. All fluids should be kept separated and properly labeled to ensure proper recycling and appropriate disposing.

Routine vehicle maintenance, while necessary for all fleets, can be one of the most significant sources of hazardous waste today, Globetti said.