Although it might seem that, from an ecological point of view, only the emissions from the exhaust are dealt with during the operation of the car, in reality the waste generated with its operation and maintenance must also be taken into account. As the preferences of motorists gradually change, more and more people are interested in this. So they also care about how their service, to which they entrust their car, handles waste.
Car repair shops must comply with applicable regulations and standards, but it is unlikely that someone as a customer will demand after the service to show him all the certificates and the way in which the generated waste is handled. The biggest difference in the approach to environmental protection will be seen in different “garage operators” compared to authorized service centers.
In simple terms, it could be said that the customer of the authorized service has 100% certainty that the service of his car, including the possible change of oil, parts, tires, brakes and perhaps the battery, will not have a negative impact on the environment. If this bothers you, then you don’t have to worry about the branded workshop in the back yard making a fire once a week and throwing everything into it. The generated waste is handled differently. But let’s look at the most common ones and you might be surprised where some materials end up everywhere. Certainly not everything is thrown into the landfill.
Oil as heating for the boiler? Not always
If you are wondering how it is with used engine oil, it is not as simple there as in some smaller “semi-official” services, where the fence is painted with old oil, or the stove is flooded with it in the winter. Since oil is considered a dangerous substance, its handling must follow certain regulations. For the motorist who does the maintenance of his car himself, complications arise because the old oil cannot be simply handed over somewhere and there are only specialized workplaces that can officially handle it.
We’ll leave it up to you whether it wouldn’t be better if each pump had a barrel or tank into which you could pour the few liters of oil from, for example, a garden tractor. Of course, official oil disposal services have certified procedures according to applicable standards. Here we have an example from an authorized Škoda service center of how oils are treated.
The branded service center has a room reserved for oils, where there are not only barrels with new oil, but also tanks for pumping out the old oil. But if you think that mechanics are running around with a tub of old oil and pouring it somewhere, it’s definitely not the case. In simple terms, the service has its own internal “oil pipe”, and each workshop has not only a pump to pump the used oil back into the tank, but also a refueling device for new oil. That way, the mechanic does not have to run to the warehouse, disassemble individual liter or five-liter plastic packages, and simply “refuel” with the necessary amount of oil that meets the standards and specifications. This mainly saves additional waste and speeds up the whole process.
How much oil is bottled like this? “We have two tanks with a total volume of over 2 m3, which we fill roughly every month. We change four liters of oil in about twenty cars a day here, so it adds up very quickly. More than two thousand liters of used oil is a completely normal monthly average,” says Lukáš Žalud, head of service services at the authorized Amond service center in Kladno.
And where does the used oil end up? Collection is carried out by a specialized company that will take care of ecological recycling. But the oil’s journey does not end there. Old oil can be processed back into so-called base oils in specialized facilities, which are then used to produce new oils for various areas of use, including motor oils. It can also be processed into heating oil, which is commonly used in industry (for example, cement plants), where it replaces the primary raw material produced from petroleum.
Tires have interesting (and useful) uses
Everyone thinks that tires end up as a safety feature around barriers on racetracks, but only a very small percentage of used tires see this use. By the way, did you know that authorized service centers have the obligation to fulfill the role of a take-back point for tires, because they have the certainty of ecological disposal of this type of waste? Some companies specialize in retreading tires that can be retreaded and reused. However, these are mostly tires for industrial and agricultural machines, trailers or trucks, i.e. generally cars that reach lower speeds.
Used tires are quite difficult to recycle. On a special line, they are separated into three main parts, namely rubber crumb, textile fibers and steel wire. “In terms of further use, the most problematic is textile, which is usually used for energy production, or even before that as a sorption material. The steel is remelted and used in metallurgy,” explains František Pelech, Greenretail specialist from Škoda Auto. Rubber has a very wide range of uses and is most often used again in transport, or in the construction of roadways, where it is necessary to dampen noise and vibrations.
There are modified cement plants that add shredded tires as fuel to coal and then use them to produce building materials and various additives. Interestingly, the steel fibers from the tires serve as material reinforcement. However, this combustion process (it takes place at around 2,000 °C) requires further processing by exhalations and not all cement plants can officially use it. Old tires can eventually end up as material in the construction of buildings, or even be used as part of the road you drive on.
Battery? You can easily get two or three hundred for this
Used car batteries are also a relatively valuable item. Now, of course, we are referring to starter batteries, because modern traction batteries of hybrids and electric cars are taken back by car manufacturers and they are completely recycled. The rare and expensive materials contained in them travel back to the production process.
However, ordinary car batteries certainly do not end up in the waste, because they also contain valuable metals. If you don’t know how to get rid of an old battery, take it to a recycling center. You will get around 16 CZK per kilogram, so even for a smaller car battery you will get back around two hundred, for larger and heavier batteries even more.
Sheet metal, from the bumpers a new bumper
Even cars do not end up in the landfill after accidents, and in fact everything that can be used is used. For example, sheet metal parts, especially deformed mudguards, hoods and doors after accidents, are remelted and used again, even if, for example, in another industry. Today, the vast majority of iron in production is not new mining, but material used from the recycling of old.
Plastics, especially bumpers, which are the first to be hit in accidents, also end up in a similar way. A damaged bumper is usually not repaired and replaced entirely. But even these parts are already heading for recycling, and the Škoda car company, for example, is testing a process in which old bumpers could be reused in the production of new ones. “We continuously check and test the use of recycled materials. We have, for example, brake fluid, antifreeze, dynamic seals and, of course, a whole range of plastic parts in various stages of development,” says František Pelech. “For everyone, I can mention, for example, the ‘bumper to bumper’ project, where, in cooperation with colleagues from technical development and external partners in the Czech Republic, we are already able to process old bumpers and make a new bumper from them, with up to 100% recycled content, while visually or qualitatively you can’t distinguish it from a bumper made of primary raw materials.”
What about other wastes?
Driving a car creates a lot of other waste, especially packaging. Certainly you know. You order new candles, filters, oil and light bulbs, and you receive a two by two and a half meter box with cardboard all around and full of bubble wrap. Of course, car manufacturers also try to reduce the amount of waste within their service network.
The goal of manufacturers is to proceed in such a way that there is as little or no waste as possible. “We can refurbish some parts at the factory, so there is no waste or it is generated to a significantly lesser extent. In general, it can be said that the volume of waste that ends up in landfills without any use has significantly decreased over the last 10 to 20 years. For example, in 2008 we collected just over 50 tons of used tires within our network, and most of them ended up as a source of energy in cement plants. In 2022, we collected more than 2,000 tons of tires and all of them went through the material recycling process. In the future, we assume that the vast majority of waste coming from our service network will be materially or chemically recycled, and ideally these valuable and high-quality secondary materials will be used back in vehicles and their parts,” explains František Pelech.