Updated on May 31, 2023
We all know the feeling. You’ve had those old cans of paint or cans of stale gas lying on the shelves in your garage for years with the constant attention of getting rid of them at some point.
Of course, now that you’ve finally decided to get around to cleaning the garage out, you realize that you have no idea how to properly dispose of that motor oil, paint or gas.
Here’s what you need to know about disposal of old gas, paint, motor oil, or hazardous waste disposal.
The Importance of Safe Disposal
You might be considering simply pouring them down the drain, tossing them in the trash or dumping them out on the ground. However, before you do so, you need to be aware of the fact that this is not only illegal, but also incredibly damaging to the environment.
Statistics show that one gallon of gasoline has the potential to pollute 750,000 gallons of water, while one gallon of motor oil can pollute approximately 250,000 gallons.
Used motor oil might be the biggest source of water pollution in the United States, but gasoline, paint, varnish and other chemicals can be just as environmentally toxic. For this reason, it’s essential that you follow the proper steps to dispose of these hazardous materials properly.
What to Do With Old Gas
Gasoline eventually begins to break down and go stale over time especially if it’s exposed to direct sunlight or higher temperatures.
Using this old gas in your engine has the potential to begin to gum up the parts and potentially cause serious damage no matter if you add a bottle of fuel system cleaner to the tank. This means you’re left trying to find some other way to dispose of those old cans of gas you have lying around.
Unfortunately, gasoline is both environmentally toxic and incredibly flammable, which obviously means you can’t just pour it out on the ground. So… how to dispose of old gasoline?
It’s recommended that as with oil, paint and other hazardous household wastes, you find a local hazardous waste disposal center that accepts gasoline. In some cases, you may need to hire a waste disposal company to take care of the gas for you.
Still, most local governments offer free disposal of all hazardous household wastes, including gasoline.
If you don’t think the gas is too old and maybe even usable, it’s typically considered low risk to simply dilute the old gas with fresh gas at a 1-to-3 or 4 ratio and use it in your lawnmower or even your vehicle (per the CarTalk.com forums). Adding a bit of fuel stabilizer to the tank is extra insurance if you feel so inclined.
Getting Rid of Used Motor Oil
Used motor oil typically contains numerous toxic chemicals, heavy metals and other impurities that make it particularly harmful to the environment. Worse still, oil will stain your driveway, is incredibly sticky, and slow to degrade.
Therefore, it is essential that you take the proper steps to contain, transport and dispose of used oil anytime you give your engine an oil change.
When you change your oil, the first step is to transfer the used oil from your drain pan into a tight, leak-proof container (like a gallon milk jug) — making sure not to spill any on the ground in the process.
You’ll then need to check with local officials to see where the nearest hazardous waste disposal center is at. In most cases, the local municipal waste facility will have a special drop-off point for used motor oil. You can usually drop off any used oil filters at the same location.
In many areas that offer curbside recycling, they will also take your sealed clear 1-gallon jugs of used motor oil if you leave them on your curb along with your recycling or trash bin. Check with your local garbage collection service to see if this is available in your area.
Disposing of Old Paints, Primers, Stains, Varnishes and Solvents
Leftover paint, primers, old solvents, empty pan cans and solvent soaked rags all qualify as hazardous waste. Many pain formulations are categorized as hazardous waste due to the fact that they may contain toxic heavy metals such as lead, mercury, chromium and cadmium.
On the other hand, varnish, some paints and most chemical solvents are all classified as hazardous waste due to their high flammability and also because they may contain various toxic chemical compounds.
As with motor oil, your local hazardous waste disposal center should have a special drop-off point for paints, flammable solvents and any contaminated rags, brushes, containers, etc.
Other Common Hazardous Household Waste
Your garage or tool shed isn’t the only place where you might have hazardous wastes lying around. In fact, you probably have more hazardous wastes under the kitchen sink or inside your cupboards than you do in the garage.
Glass cleaner, drain cleaner, mothballs, furniture polish, rug deodorizer and silver polish all fall under the EPA’s definition of hazardous household waste, which means you’ll want to make sure to dispose of these properly as well.
Steps to Prevent Hazardous Waste Disposal
There are a number of ways that you can easily avoid the hassle of having to dispose of old hazardous waste, and that’s to ensure you don’t have as many hazardous materials lying around in your garage in the first place.
This means accurately measuring to ensure you only buy as much paint as you need or making sure to remember to top off your tank with that gas in your garage instead of letting it go stale.
Alternatively, adding a fuel stabilizer to the cans will help extend the life of the gas and thus ensure you have more time to use it before it goes bad.
Of course, there is nothing you can do about that used motor oil. If you plan on changing your own old, you’re left having to deal with the hassle of transporting and disposing of it safely.
Nonetheless, taking a few simple steps to cut down on leftover hazardous materials is an easy way to minimize the amount of waste you need to dispose of and thus lessen the potential environmental impact those toxic materials can cause.