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Recycle or dispose. What’s the difference? It’s just trash, right?

Not really. The old adage of “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” profoundly rings true in automotive aftermarket’s own recycling niché: engine building. We know you set aside your metals from a wide range of vehicle repairs and modifications, but when it comes to your recycling, do you have a separate bin (as you do — hopefully — in your home) for “paper,” “plastic” and box just for “metals?” Or like some shops, do you have “a guy” that comes by and takes it off your hands for a “reasonable” fee? Overlooking your precious metals can cause you to leave some extra money on the revenue table.

Engine-building shops have taken notice. For Matthew Dickmeyer, who owns Dickmeyer Automotive Engineering in South Whitley, IN, recycling makes garbage collections an easier process.

“We recycle everything,” he said. “Especially the cardboard for the size of our shop.”

After his recycling efforts, Dickmeyer’s 5,000-square foot building normally puts out less non-recyclable trash than most average U.S. families. Finding recycling materials through the shop’s waste, he said, is just a part of running an efficient shop. Core recycling and auto wrecking service, A&A Midwest CEO Scott Stolberg noted that many shops should mirror Dickmeyer’s efforts, particularly with precious metals.

“One of the things we see in many businesses is they fail to segregate their commodities. If they are mixed, the values drop automatically. It’s that simple,” Stolberg said. “It is amazing how some managers and owners realize that they can send that scrap to the recycling place themselves.”

Every year, nearly 27 million cars end up on the recycling block. According to the United States Council on Automotive Research, 80 percent of recyclable materials are found in each vehicle. Even at that point, the 20 percent that consists of auto shredder residue (rubber, plastic, wood, paper, glass, etc.) are disposed in landfills each year to the tune of 5 million tons. Stolberg said A&A Midwest communicates the virtues of core recycling and so far, the engine guys are listening.

“The PERs do a good job because they recycle in such a high volume. They know you should separate your cast iron from your steel, because cast iron is worth a premium,” he explained. “Pistons are a different aluminum than manifolds and timing covers. They are worth a premium because they are a high-nickel content aluminum. A piston manufacturer would pay a premium for that scrap if he could get just pistons. But if it is mixed, it is a different issue.”

For small shops like Dickmeyer’s, the savings from recycling is noticed and offers an immediate impact. But bigger shops, Stolberg noted, sometimes miss the bigger picture.

“There is a truck dealer I’ve visited not too long ago,” he explained. “They spent $2,000 per April on their garbage service. Their garbage. I looked at their cardboard. Before it cost them $4800 to buy a bailer to take away the cardboard.

“By recycling, they cut their bill by $1,000 and started getting $200 in revenue. So now, they are $1,200 ahead. Before that, the owner just assumed it was the cost of doing business. He never realized how much he actually spent to get rid of just the cardboard.”

Another problem that is common in recycling is metal theft. With the demand of nonferrous metals like copper and aluminum on the rise, an engine repair shop is a prime source of revenue for thieves looking for big money returns.

Stolberg says a quick way to curb this problem is for owners and managers to simply realize the worth of their unwanted material.

“You have to treat the stuff like it has value,” he warned. “For example, I got a call from a company that is going out of business. They were going to scrap all the fixtures. We told them that we’d give them the (recycle) box that Tuesday night. But don’t load it until Wednesday morning, so we can pick it up Wednesday afternoon.

“Because if you leave it out overnight, you’re going to come in the morning to find your scrap gone. With theft, I lose out because I’m coming to get a box full of scrap that’s empty. And the business loses out because someone stole their stuff. The moral: you’ve got to take care of your scrap.”

A&A Midwest and other similar organizations have stressed that to minimize metal theft, three groups must work collectively: recyclers, the theft victims and law enforcement.

“Recyclers need to know who are the people selling the scrap and how they got the material in the first place,” Stolberg said. “Law enforcement needs to take the crime seriously to prosecute the perpetrators when they catch them. Plus, the victims need to secure their property.”

While metals can reveal a considerable amount of savings, they’re not the only resources that can help shop owners increase efficiency. Parts washers found in shops today are becoming increasingly innovative with new lines of self-contained recycling.

Companies such as Safety-Kleen, Garymills Corp. and Eastern Precision provide such types of aqueous parts washers from manual and automatic to solvent-based and ultrasonic.

“Shop owners are very much aware of this equipment for years,” said Dave Weaver, SystemOne sales and service manager for Eastern Precision. SystemOne is Eastern Precision’s brand of recycling cleaning machines for light-to-medium duty parts cleaning.

By using such a parts washer system in general, Weaver said, owners rid themselves of major headaches by recycling the cleaning solvent and eliminating waste as well as the chance of liability after it has left their business.

“The old industry standard was that the service would come out of the truck and give you 12 gallons of solvent in a 30-gallon container. Then took your stuff away,” he said. “You signed a manifest to say that you’re liable if they roll their truck and spill it.”

Other companies have taken upon the responsibilities of handling waste. For instance, Safety-Kleen provides a “certificate of assurance” guarantee when handling waste by covering cleanup costs in case of a spill or accident.

Having to deal with handling and recycling waste around the engine shop is not a secret, but finding the right procedures and methods on recycling doesn’t have to be, Stolberg said. With the right amount of education and cognizance, shop owners can use recycling as a way to maximize their revenue and cut expenses.

“There is a much better awareness of recycling today across all businesses,” Stolberg said. “One of the things people want to do is be efficient. When it comes to recycling, people will listen. People need to get value from the effort. And once they do, they should let the world know it. From a business perspective, take a look at your garbage. You’ve got to be able to learn what has value and what doesn’t. Know what is recyclable.”

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Michael Freeze