How to Recycle Antifreeze

An Overview On Recycling Antifreeze

If you experience freezing temperatures for any given portion of the year, you’ve likely had to pay attention to antifreeze levels carefully. A necessity for sure in sub-zero temperatures, many care drivers can’t live without this auto fluid. But it’s far from safe for you, and definitely not very earth-friendly. No worries, though - recycling antifreeze isn’t difficult if you know what to do.

The importance of antifreeze recycling

Used to lower the freezing temperature of vehicle fluids, antifreeze is made with solvents like ethylene glycol, methanol, ethanol, isopropyl alcohol, or propylene glycol, all of which come with their own health and environmental hazards, but here’s a quick run-down of the basic eco problems:

  • Heavy metals: Used antifreeze will have picked up heavy metals during its use, including things like lead, cadmium, and chromium, making it highly hazardous for human health and local ecosystems.
  • Toxic solvent: Because antifreeze contains solvents, it is toxic when ingested by you, your children, your pets, or other wildlife.
  • Non renewable resources: Since ethylene glycol, the most popular antifreeze component, is derived from natural gas which is a non-renewable resource, there are limits to how much of this substance can be produced.
  • Aquatic damage: If large quantities of antifreeze are allowed to break down in surface waters where they create dissolved oxygen, the result is significant loss of aquatic life.
  • Low recycling rates: Only about 12% of all waste antifreeze is recycled in the US annually.[1]

Because of these hazards, you should never pour used antifreeze down the sink, toilet, into the well or septic tank, down the sewage drain, or onto soil or in a ditch. The responsible disposal choice for spent antifreeze is always recycling.

Minimize antifreeze waste

As with most recycling issues, precycling is the best way to minimize the amount of recycling you have to do, and antifreeze is no different. To cut the amount of antifreeze disposal work you have to do:

  • Limit quantities: Buy only as much as you need to get the job done. Though antifreeze does have a shelf life of 2 to 3 years, it will eventually become unusable. Choose smaller bottles and return any unopened containers rather that store it.
  • Change when necessary: Only change your antifreeze fluids when necessary - extra changes may result in unnecessary waste.

How to recycle antifreeze

Auto repair shops now have technology to recycle antifreeze on site by removing contaminants and reconditioning it with additives. This is a highly cost-effective antifreeze recycling method. For the rest of us, the same general recycling principles are used to restore antifreeze that’s returned to local recycling sites:

  • Curbside recycling: Some community recycling programs will collect auto fluids with the rest of your recyclables, but you should check with your local recycling authority first to be certain.
  • HHW collection: Many communities now have either periodical or year-round HHW collection sites where you can drop off everything from unused paint to pesticides to antifreeze. Check our    recycling database for a list of resources for finding a program in your area. And of course, if your community lacks a HHW collection day, start one yourself!
  • Your local auto shop: If you’ve got a good relationship with your local auto repair shop, they may be willing to take your used antifreeze for recycling (sometimes for a small fee). If you haven’t already introduced yourself, now might be a great time to do so!
  • Landfill options: Some solid waste management authorities handle HHW by collecting it at the dump sites directly. Call your local sanitation office to find out if they have such a program.

When preparing antifreeze for recycling, be sure to put it in a clean, dry container (that has not been used to store other auto fluids to avoid contamination and chemical reactions) and seal it tightly, being sure to store it away from pets, children, and wildlife.



1 Antifreeze. (n.d.). Retrieved August 5, 2010, from US Environmental Protection Agency:

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