Guide to Glycol Disposal

While everyone is familiar with the need for antifreeze to keep their car’s engines at the right temperature, did you know that the same ingredients are used in HVAC systems to protect your system from temperature fluctuations?

We are talking about the main ingredient of antifreeze, glycol. Available in two primary forms, ethylene glycol, and propylene glycol, this odorless, sweet-tasting toxic liquid can be found in your car, HVAC units as well as commercial products like stamp pad inks, ballpoint pens, solvents, paints, plastics, films, and cosmetics.

Our guide to glycol disposal explores the differences between ethylene glycol and propylene glycol and how to dispose of it if you’re an automotive shop, HVAC repair company, or other industry that handles large volumes of glycol.

What is Glycol?

Glycol encompasses a group of organic compounds from the alcohol family, notable for their wide range of industrial, commercial, and consumer applications. There are two commonly used forms of glycol, ethylene glycol, and propylene glycol, each used for different purposes based on their chemical properties.

Ethylene glycol is best known for its use in antifreeze and coolant formulations for automotive and heating systems. This version leverages its low freezing point and high boiling point to regulate temperature effectively in your engine and HVAC units. 

Ingestion of ethylene glycol is toxic and dangerous. Studies reveal two outcomes for exposure to ethylene glycol: low levels of ethylene glycol by inhalation for about a month showed signs of throat and upper respiratory tract irritation. Another study with rats and mice exposed to ethylene glycol in their diet for long periods exhibited signs of kidney toxicity and liver effects.

The other popular version of the chemical, propylene glycol, is often used as a food additive. Propylene glycol helps food products maintain their consistency, moisture, and texture. Normal amounts of propylene glycol are not hazardous, but many nutritionists and doctors recommend limiting your intake due to unknown long-term effects.

Regulations for Glycol

Various government agencies put together regulations for ethylene glycol:

“In the workplace, The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) provided a recommended ethylene glycol exposure limit (REL) of 50 ppm (ceiling limit), and The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) has established threshold limit values (TLVs) for workplace exposure.” 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration did not set an exposure limit.

The EPA classified ethylene glycol as a hazardous air pollutant under the Clean Air Act and “recommends that children not be exposed to more than 20 mg/L (20 ppm) ethylene glycol in drinking water for 1 day, or 6 mg/L (6 ppm) per day over 10 days. The EPA also recommends that adults not be exposed to more than a daily total of 7 mg/L (7 ppm) for a lifetime.”

The FDA has approved ethylene glycol as an indirect food additive for use only as a component of packaging adhesives.

Is Glycol a Hazardous Waste?

Classifying glycol as hazardous waste hinges on how it has been used and whether it has been contaminated with other substances.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides guidelines for managing and disposing hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). 

According to the EPA and similar regulatory bodies in other countries, waste is considered hazardous if it poses a substantial or potential threat to public health or the environment. 

There are four main hazardous waste characteristics defined by the RCRA: ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, or toxicity.

Ethylene glycol is on the Right to Know hazardous substances list, meaning it must be labeled appropriately if you have ethylene glycol within your building.

Ethylene glycol becomes a concern when contaminated with heavy metals, such as lead or chromium, often due to its use in industrial or automotive coolants. 

If glycol-containing products are used to introduce hazardous substances into the glycol, the resulting waste may be classified as hazardous. For instance, used antifreeze from vehicles, which may contain metals and other contaminants, could be considered hazardous waste.

Ultimately, whether or not glycol classifies as a hazardous waste is up to your local state regulations and what other materials may have interacted with it. You should avoid contamination at all costs.

How Do You Dispose of Glycol?

Whether ethylene glycol or propylene glycol, disposing of this liquid requires specific tools to mitigate its impact on the environment and human health. 

The first step in properly disposing of glycol is identifying whether you can recycle it. Dumping glycol products like antifreeze is illegal as they may contain heavy metals that turn them into hazardous waste. Never pour ethylene glycol down the drain or into water; you would be liable to fines and penalties.

Recycling ethylene glycol allows for reuse or conversion into new products and reduces environmental pollution.  

If recycling is not an option, follow local regulations and guidelines for hazardous waste disposal. These guidelines often dictate that glycol must be taken to a designated hazardous waste facility, where it can be disposed of to minimize its environmental impact.

HWH Environmental works with automotive facilities and HVAC companies to dispose of glycol while helping them avoid costly regulation penalties.

When preparing glycol for disposal, storing it in leak-proof containers clearly labeled as hazardous waste is required.

For businesses and industries that generate large quantities of glycol waste, work with a hazardous waste disposal company to establish a waste management plan to comply with all regulatory requirements. 

By adhering to these practices, individuals and organizations can contribute to the prevention of environmental contamination and protect public health from the risks associated with improper glycol disposal.

What Happens When You Improperly Dispose of Glycol?

When glycol is released into the environment—whether through industrial runoff, improper waste management, or accidental spills—it quickly contaminates soil and waterways. 

Ethylene glycol causes damage to aquatic life, with even small amounts leading to the death of fish and other organisms. Improper disposal can seep into groundwater, posing a risk to drinking water. Even in small quantities, ingesting ethylene glycol causes symptoms such as nausea and vomiting to severe metabolic acidosis, and renal failure.

Propylene glycol, while less toxic than ethylene glycol, contributes to oxygen depletion in water bodies. The CDC and world organizations recommend limiting your exposure to propylene glycol as much as possible.

Need Help with Glycol Disposal? Call HWH Environmental Today.

HWH Environmental provides unmatched customer service for your glycol disposal. Rest assured that when you call, you’ll speak with a real human representative assisting you in getting rid of any hazardous waste you might have in your building. 

To learn more about HWH Environmental’s hazardous waste disposal services, contact us online or call us at 877-777-6708.

Author: Mark Chocola

With over 25 years of experience in the hazardous waste disposal industry, Mark Chocola is one of the driving forces behind HWH Environmental that are committed to providing safe, compliant, and cost-effective hazardous waste solutions. His deep industry knowledge and dedication to customer service have made HWH Environmental a trusted partner for businesses across the United States.