Can Antifreeze Be Recycled? How to Dispose of Antifreeze Safely and Responsibly

Pouring yellow antifreeze
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Antifreeze can be recycled, despite being a highly toxic and hazardous material that can poison both humans and pets.

Antifreeze or coolant should never be poured onto the ground, into the trash, or down a drain. Not only could it seep through the soil and into groundwater, potentially polluting water sources, it can also be harmful to wildlife and plants.

Explore the different recycling options for antifreeze, what steps and precautions you should take when handling and storing the liquid, and how to keep your family safe.

What Is Antifreeze?

Antifreeze is a glycol-based fluid made primarily from concentrated ethylene glycol or propylene glycol. To create coolant, antifreeze chemicals are combined with water to create a solution that lowers the freezing point of the liquid circulating around the engine of a vehicle; this prevents it from freezing in the winter and is also able to prevent evaporation in hot conditions.

How to Recycle Antifreeze

As with most recyclables, the disposal of used antifreeze depends on where you live, as certain communities will accept the liquid at their local household hazardous waste collection program, recycling facilities, or service stations. It is best to contact your local county’s environmental service office, department of public works, or local recycling center to discover your options.

A quick internet search will tell you if your area has a dedicated ABOP (antifreeze, batteries, oil, and paint) waste management facility. ABOP centers typically have drop-off locations to collect used antifreeze and dispose of it in an environmentally safe way. Similarly, you can contact your local recycling center, your county’s waste management authority, or even a local mechanic or automotive shop for more information.

It is rare for a curbside recycling program to accept antifreeze, as it would be considered household hazardous waste (HHW) by most residential collection services, but it doesn’t hurt to give them a call and check. If not, the local recycling center will be able to direct you toward the nearest locations that take HHW free of charge.

Similarly, if your antifreeze is heavily tainted (with oil, gas, or other solvents, for example), it may require a different disposal treatment, and if it contains too many heavy metals it will also be considered hazardous waste; in this case, only facilities that handle hazardous waste will accept it, so you’ll need to reach out to your city or county HHW department to dispose of it properly.

Once you send your waste antifreeze to the appropriate recycling or processing center, professionals will be able to remove contaminants and recycle the liquid.

In the recycling stage, used antifreeze is checked for any heavy metals or oil, filtered, and then more chemicals are added to create new antifreeze. Many larger automotive shops have specialized machinery on-site to recycle coolant, since it's an easy way to save money rather than buying new.

Testing conducted by the EPA shows that recycled coolants meet nationally recognized performance specifications established by the American Society for Testing and Materials and the Society of Automotive Engineers. In fact, recycled antifreeze isn’t simply just as good as the new stuff, it might actually work better since the recycling process reduces the chlorides found in hard water.

Most auto shops check coolant as part of regular maintenance or during routine oil changes, but those with car experience can test it at home, properly drain the radiator of old antifreeze, and transport it in sealed containers safely themselves. Determining whether or not your coolant needs to be changed is as simple as purchasing a coolant tester, which comes with instructions for interpreting results.

Treehugger Tip

A sealed bottle of antifreeze has an infinite shelf life and will last for years even after it is opened (as long as it is tightly sealed), so you may not even have to dispose of it at all if it's been unused.

How to Dispose of Antifreeze Safely

The poisonous ingredients in antifreeze can include ethylene glycol, methanol, and propylene glycol. Propylene glycol is generally considered less toxic than ethylene glycol (it’s even been “generally recognized as safe” for use in food by the FDA), but it can still cause issues in high doses or for prolonged periods, especially in children.

Ethylene glycol poisoning is much more serious and can cause permanent kidney or brain damage, as well as death, within 24 hours. Methanol is also highly toxic, and as little as 2 tablespoons can kill a child. Unfortunately, ethylene glycol is a colorless, odorless, and sweet-tasting chemical, so children and pets can easily ingest it by accident.

Old antifreeze should be stored in a secure, clearly labeled plastic container before transporting it to the appropriate facility.

Prevent Accidental Exposure to Antifreeze

  • Store antifreeze in its original container and keep it locked where children can't see or reach it.
  • Don’t use antifreeze when kids or pets are around.
  • Reclose the cap tightly after use.
  • Clean up any spills or leaks right away.
  • Never transfer antifreeze to another container.
  • Always seek medical attention right away if antifreeze is ingested.