Sunday, October 13, 2002

Waste charges add to car bill


Garages recoup expense of tire, fluid disposal

By Anna Guido
Enquirer contributor

The last two times Robert Borusiewicz had service on his vehicle, he was less than pleased about having to pay a “shop supply/waste disposal” fee.

“I think it's too high,” the Batavia resident said. “My complaint is this: Are they really disposing of these items, or are they just putting them into their ... Dumpster?”

An informal survey of automotive repair and service facilities confirms at least one part of Mr. Borusiewicz's observation: These fees have steadily increased in the past few years.

TIRES TO FUEL
Scrap tires, shredded to the size of a 2-to-4-inch chip, are a source of fuel for coal-burning furnaces in what is called the tire-derived fuel market.
Energy and recycling companies nationwide are practicing and researching the use of old tires for this purpose.
The Scrap Tire Management Fund of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is a source of funding. The EPA transfers these funds to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which in turn, gives the money out in grants to energy and recycling companies.
In the Cincinnati area, Cinergy and Rumpke have received these grants to further their research into the market — “Cinergy as a user and Rumpke as a provider,” said Bob Large, supervisor of the scrap tire management unit for the Ohio EPA.
“Rumpke is looking into upgrading their recycling equipment to make a tire derived fuel chip that can be handled and injected into a furnace to be used like coal,” he said. A blend of 90 percent coal and 10 percent tire-derived fuel chip is what is being used in current generation boilers.
The tire fuel chips have a higher BTU value than coal and they burn cleaner, Mr. Large said.
Brian Enck, an environmental specialist with the Ohio EPA's scrap tire management unit, said uncertainty about future air regulations and the cost of upgrading or retrofitting current equipment are major drawbacks to wider use.
To learn more about national trends, go to the Rubber Manufacturers Association Web site at www.rma.org.
Spokesmen for the industry say the fees are increasingly a necessary cost of business to be environmentally safe. Their advice to Mr. Borusiewicz: Get used to it.

“We're not interested in making a profit off of this because it would really look ugly,” said Bill Schirmer, owner of Schirmer's Garage in Oakley and former vice president of the Cincinnati chapter of the Automotive Service Association.

Mr. Schirmer said the industry started implementing the charges a few years ago and that they are a cost of doing business that needs to be recouped.

He charges 3 percent of labor with a $15 cap for shop supply and waste disposal fees.

“It covers our overhead — things we haven't been passing on to the customer. It's money to compensate for expenses that are justifiably there,” Mr. Schirmer said.

Mr. Borusiewicz, 65, worked in the automotive service industry in the 1960s, when he ran an Esso station in New Jersey near the Holland Tunnel.

“I have a good idea of what goes on with car servicing,” he said. “And I've probably had 30 cars over the years.”

Tires Plus on Ohio Pike is where Mr. Borusiewicz last took his car for service. He was charged $12.80 on a $306.53 bill for what was listed on the invoice as “Shop Supl. &/Or Haz. Mat. Dispose.” On a previous visit, the charge was $20.47 on a $459.31 bill.

Tires Plus charges between 2 and 6 percent of a customer's total bill with a $25 cap for this service, said Vicky Condell, a company spokeswoman. The fee helps cover disposal and recycling costs of parts, oil and other fluids taken from vehicles, Ms. Condell said.

At the Jake Sweeney Chrysler Jeep dealership in Springdale, the fee is similar — 3 percent of the total bill with a $25 cap. In addition to disposal fees, the charge helps cover incidentals used in servicing vehicles, such as shop rags, said Jim House, a service manager.

“Most companies would not be making money on this,” Mr. House said. “If they're charging more than what it costs to get rid of something, then it's probably just for administrative fees.”

Paul Zaglauer, general manager of Safety-Kleen Corp. in Sharonville, said Mr. Borusiewicz's suspicions that some automotive service businesses may be abusing the practice are not entirely false.

Safety-Kleen is the world's largest recycler of contaminated fluids and does about 35 percent of its business with the automotive service industry. The company cleans out oil and other fluid containers at automotive service shops and handles the recycling and disposal of the fluids and parts, including oil filters.

“I've actually seen shops that charge as much as $5 and $10 for oil filter recycling, then turn around and throw the filter in the trash,” Mr. Zaglauer said. “But I'm certainly not talking about the majority — maybe 10 percent, if that.”

An Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official in Columbus said state environmental laws do not regulate these waste disposal fees.

“They're free-marketplace fees,” said Jeff Mayhugh, a supervisor with the EPA's Division of Hazardous Waste Management.

The EPA recommends recycling used oil, which is no longer considered a hazardous material, Mr. Mayhugh said. Used oil can be recycled back into newly restored oil, and recycled oil filters can be completely recycled for their oil, metal and paper.

Other fluids also can be recycled, Mr. Mayhugh said. Brake fluids and transmission fluids can be recycled with the used oil; antifreeze can be cleaned up and reconstituted to make new antifreeze; and the cleaning solvents can be recycled into clean solvents. Used oil also can be used for fuel in oil-burning furnaces. This practice has become popular in recent years with a lot of the smaller automotive service shops.

For Schirmer's Garage in Oakley, “it brings big savings.”

“The furnaces are perfected now so it's less work,” Mr. Schirmer said. ”

Mr. Zaglauer said automotive service facilities also sell used oil in large quantities to steel mills for heating purposes and for use as an ingredient in tar. But the sale of used oil is not believed to be a big market for the automotive service industry, experts say.

Unfortunately for the consumer, “shop supply/waste disposal” fees vary depending on business practices and what people are willing to pay. Because some automotive service businesses may not be as thorough and honest about their practices, it is the responsibility of the consumer to ask what precisely is being done with the automotive fluids and parts. This will help them to determine whether the charges are fair.

The only fees associated with handling wastes from automotive service shops that are dictated by federal and state environmental laws are for scrap tires.

That fee in Ohio is $1 a tire, and it is collected at the wholesale level (by dealerships and automotive service shops), according to Bob Large, supervisor of the scrap tire management unit for the state EPA. The fee is $1 a tire in Kentucky and 25 cents in Indiana, but they're collected by tire dealers and not wholesalers.

The tire fees go into funds that each state has created to clean up abandoned tire dump sites, which pose fire hazards and act as breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes.

When automotive service shops put new tires on a customer's car and take in the old ones, they charge anywhere from $2 to $5 for tire disposal, Mr. Large said. Typically, the fee is used to cover the EPA charge, the service shop's tire hauling costs and any administrative costs, such as record keeping.

Darrel Rutherford, owner of D & R Recyclers, Inc. in St. Clair Township, is a hauler. He collects old tires, then sells them to recyclers.

“I'm the middle man, but I'm the collector,” Mr. Rutherford said.

He charges from $1 to $1.75 to collect auto and light truck tires from dealerships and tire stores, depending on his travel time. For larger tires, he charges $5 to $7 a tire.

“The people who do business with me are concerned that the tires are properly disposed of, and I see to it that that happens,” Mr. Rutherford said.

Bob Shelley, coordinator for the Butler County Solid Waste District and a longtime service station operator in West Chester Township, said he charged customers only what was needed to cover costs — 50 cents to pay the state, and $1.50 to pay the collector.

“I don't think by any means it's a profit situation for anyone in the automotive service business,” Mr. Shelley said “Waste collectors and haulers add their own fees — it has to be a profit situation for them because it's a competitive market.”

Mr. Shelley owned and operated Shell Auto Care on Cincinnati-Dayton Road for 38 years, before leaving the business in 1999.

“I don't think any retail establishment would use that as a profit center,” he said. “If Goodyear charges you the consumer $5 to get rid of a tire, then somewhere in the loop Goodyear is paying $5 to have that tire disposed of in an environmentally safe manner.”



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