Preventing Pollution
August 4, 2015 By Peaks to Prairies
Auto Body Shops

There are many ways an auto body shop can reduce waste and help protect employees, the community, and the environment. Here are some specific recommendations for preventing pollution when dealing with hazardous materials, process efficiency, worker safety, conservation and recognition of a job well done. Since some supplies you get for free from paint manufacturers, you will not save in upfront costs but can reduce disposal costs.

Hazardous Materials

Purchase materials that are less hazardous:

  • Avoid chlorinated solvents.
  • Use high-solids paints (more solids and less solvents). This can reduce volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions by up to 75%.
  • Use aqueous cleaning solutions rather than mineral spirits for gun and parts cleaning. Costs and regulatory liabilities can be minimized by switching to less hazardous products, such as aqueous solutions.
    Source: U.S. EPA Region 9 Aqueous Parts Cleaning –
  • Consider using waterborne paints. Although this may require some retraining, it is the wave of the future and a great alternative.

Reduce paint-contaminated wastes:

  • Reuse paint mixing cups and use metal mixing sticks (make sure these are cleaned before the paint dries).
  • Consider investing in a weigh scale to accurately measure paint recipes in the smallest amounts necessary for the job.
  • Use paint leftovers for equipment setup and spray pattern testing.
  • Keep a log of vehicle owner’s name, paint code, and color variant needed for the repair, and label and store left-over basecoats. Seal the container tightly and store upside down to prevent any air from entering.

Reduce the amount of VOCs and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) and reduce employee exposure to hazardous chemicals:

  • Use enclosed or mechanical parts washing and gun washing systems.
  • Use versatile prep and primer products that accomplish two tasks in one Application, for example a self etching primer.
  • NEVER hurry–always plan out the job and use proper application technique.
  • Use HVLP spray equipment for appropriate painting tasks.
  • Keep inventory and waste containers closed.
  • Use an enclosed spray booth
  • Train your painting staff periodically to reduce your paint use (and VOC emissions) by as much as 20%

Control the use of solvents and paint thinners:

  • Use water based prep solutions and cleaners.
  • Use water based paints to minimize the need for cleaning solvents.
  • Avoid metal surface cleaning solvents, especially those based on methyl ethyl ketone and chlorinated compounds–check Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS).
  • Choose a solvent that has a low VOC and HAPs content (review the product’s MSDS) to protect indoor air quality.
  • Use a mechanical or enclosed cleaning system to reduce air emissions and prevent solvent evaporation.
  • Utilize used solvent as a pre-wash for tough cleaning jobs.
  • Use a solvent recycler or distillation unit to recover used solvent and save money. This can reduce the volume of waste that is sent out for hazardous waste disposal. A small amount of sludge is a by-product that may or may not be considered hazardous waste.

Process Efficiency

Improve paint transfer efficiency by providing periodic training for operators and using efficient application equipment:

  • Shop saves money by decreasing amount of paint purchased, replacing paint booth filters less frequently and less frequent cleaning of the paint booth.
  • Use high-volume, low-pressure (HVLP) spray guns instead of conventional spray guns. When used correctly, HVLP spray guns can have higher transfer efficiencies (60-70%) than conventional spray guns (20-30%).
  • Training painters reduces VOC and HAP emissions so painters have less contact with toxic paint components. Reduced emissions in the neighborhood make for better relations and fewer potential complaints and less risk of costly cleanups or health related injuries.

Keep track of shop inventory to prevent over-purchasing and prevent products from exceeding their expiration dates:

  • Use up older materials first.
  • Buy in bulk if practical for products that don’t have shelf life expirations, and to reduce multiple packaging and container disposal problems.
  • Use cost-effective reusable spray bottles to apply your bulk liquid supplies like cleaners. See
  • Regularly check for leaks and spills, cleaning them up immediately.

Hint: If air permitting recordkeeping requirements are involved, paint vendors should be able to help track monthly or yearly purchases of VOC- content materials.

Properly manage wastewater:

  • Never dispose of shop wastewater down a storm drain or in a septic system.
  • Never dispose of hazardous waste down a storm drain or septic system.
  • Contact the local municipal wastewater treatment plant prior to discharging to the sanitary sewer. Wastewater may need to be tested or pretreated.
  • Maintain your trenches, traps, and oil water separators.

Worker Safety

To reduce exposure to diisocyanates, workers should take precautions to avoid breathing vapors, mists, or aerosols:

  • Use engineering controls to limit exposure such as downdraft spray booths and high-volume low-pressure (HVLP) spray guns.
  • Wear impermeable gloves, protective clothing, goggles or glasses with side shields to reduce dermal exposure.
  • Establish a training and fit test program for all affected employees and wear a NIOSH/MSHA-approved respirator to reduce inhalation exposure.
  • Use a maintenance program to ensure optimal equipment operating efficiency.


Reuse and recycle as much material as possible, maintain your facility and equipment, and encourage employees to conserve water and energy:

  • Reuse slightly dirty thinner as a pre-wash.
  • Recycle scrap metal, aluminum cans, glass, etc.
  • Recycle plastic automobile bumpers. Contact your local recycling center for more information.
  • Recycle automotive fluids such as used oil, antifreeze, and coolants.
  • Recycle mercury switches.
  • Make sure labeling is present on all inventory and waste containers to avoid confusion and potential mixing. Label or color code common use containers.
  • Use a broom and/or vacuum to clean floors instead of water.
  • ALWAYS clean liquid spills of all kinds with a squeegee and a dustpan before using towels and absorbent products.
  • Fix leaking faucets and all other water leaks immediately.
  • Install water-conserving faucets and toilets.
  • When washing vehicles, turn off hose between rinses. Also use flow restrictors to get the job done with less water.
  • Use less water to clean paint booths by using a broom and vacuum (also minimizes the amount of wastewater generated).
  • Turn off lights when a room is unoccupied for extended periods or install occupancy sensors.
  • Turn off equipment if it is not going to be used for extended periods.
  • Keep equipment well-maintained.
  • Weatherize buildings appropriate for the climate. Install a programmable thermostat.

Recognize Improvements

If you know of an auto body shop that has taken steps to reduce waste and protect their workers and the community, give them the “pat on the back” they deserve by nominating them for a pollution prevention award. Many state and local government agencies and some universities sponsor pollution prevention awards programs. Here are some examples of environmental awards programs from around the United States:

Ecostar Business Awards Program – A program for businesses in Montana

Green Zia Environmental Excellence Program – A voluntary program for businesses in New Mexico:

EnviroStars – Nationally recognized program honors businesses in participating Washington counties for reducing, recycling and properly managing hazardous waste:

Green Star – A voluntary environmental awards program that was started in Alaska but has expanded throughout the United States: www.

Three Rivers Environmental Awards Program – A program created to honor the outstanding achievements of organizations, businesses, and individuals in a wide range of environmental efforts:

U.S. Army Environmental Awards Program – An awards program designed to recognize and reward environmental excellence in the U.S. Army: