For decades, Brown’s Auto Salvage in Bomoseen, Vermont was one of many auto salvage facilities which are not considered environmentally friendly due to the use of old work practices common in the industry. These typical work practices include spilling oil on the ground to settle dust and discharging leftover automobile refrigerants directly into the air. When Mark Brown, the owner and operator of Brown’s Auto Salvage, became aware that these industry practices were neither environmentally friendly nor financially sound, he decided to make major changes in how he operated his business.
With these work practices in place at the yard, Brown’s crew systematically dismantles junked vehicles indoors with the use of a lift. During the dismantling process, valuable, salvaged automobile parts are carefully inventoried in order to aid in reselling the parts to customers. Brown and his eleven employees also recapture excess air refrigerants, antifreeze, windshield washer fluids, gasoline, and used oil for recycling or reuse. In addition, all of the openings in the reusable auto parts that could potentially leak leftover fluids are sealed before they are stored. Last year Brown’s company recovered more than 5,000 gallons of excess gasoline by using a Gas-Buggie© which is a self-contained filtering transfer unit used for siphoning gasoline out of vehicles. Brown uses the recovered gasoline to fuel his own vehicles. Other reusable materials from junked vehicles, such as scrap metal and tires, are stored and later recycled during the spring and fall.
Improving the environmental work practices at the company has helped Brown’s business become more efficient. Before Brown made his facility more environmentally friendly, the entire salvage process from dismantling to locating used parts for customers took him and his crew an average of 25 – 30 work-hours per vehicle each year. Now this process takes an average of just eight work-hours. In addition to the changes to the vehicle dismantling process, the company also began using a computer software program to record and maintain an up-to-date inventory of available parts. Before using a computer to inventory every part on-site, Brown or another employee would have to run out to a vehicle, find a part, and test to see if the part worked. Now all the parts are checked as the car is dismantled. This improvement has allowed Brown to rapidly locate used auto parts at the salvage yard and has led to the creation of a company Web site which customers can use to find needed parts. The changes at the firm were also based on more than Brown’s financial concerns; Brown is very conscious of and concerned about Vermont’s natural resources. In fact, Brown is not just content with just doing enough to meet the minimum environmental requirements of the law. He has also taken steps to go “beyond compliance”, in other words, to do more than is required by law. For example, Brown was worried about the mercury levels in fish in New England, especially in Vermont. As a result, Brown’s salvage operation was one of the first in the state to voluntarily remove mercury switches from junked vehicles. Brown’s Auto Salvage was also the first such operation in Vermont to recycle R-12 auto refrigerant, also known as Freon, which when released directly into the air contributes to ozone depletion of the atmosphere. Prior to implementing his new vehicle dismantling process, the cars were simply left outside. Over time, the lead wheel weights, used as a balancer, would fall off the car as the car rusted or deteriorated. While sitting on the ground, these lead parts ran the risk of potentially contaminating the soil. The company went around the site and picked up all of the wheel weights that were just sitting there – literally raking up piles of lead weights. The salvage yard now also safely stores lead-acid batteries indoors in battery boxes to reduce the threat of lead contamination. Mark Brown’s environmental concerns and economic goals have allowed his firm to become both business-savvy and nature-friendly and serves as a model for other auto salvage businesses. When Judy Mirro of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (VTANR) and the Central VT Solid Waste District organized Auto Salvage Outreach Workshops to teach other salvage operators about compliance issues and environmentally sound practices, Brown presented the “Best Management Practices” portion of the workshop providing his business as the back drop of the talk. Brown spoke from a slide show presentation Mirro put together after spending many hours at Brown’s operation.
Brown says “I like to think that I am a kind, helping person, so if I can help, I’m more than glad to.” Brown believes many residents of Vermont are environmentalists even if they do not use the term. Informing salvage yard owners of practices which help both the company and the environment is a good step towards maintaining Vermont’s great natural beauty. Brown’s concern for the future of Vermont and other salvage yards as well as his model business practices receive praise from both the VTANR and the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The Department of Motor Vehicles is impressed with the thoroughness in which the facility fills out its annual inventory forms and the effort Brown makes to ensure he fully understands regulations which apply to his facility. Brown wants to encourage the salvage industry to use best management practices so they do not “look like the bad guys.” “We’re not the problem,” Brown states, “We are the solution to processing the 30,000 plus end-of-life vehicles in Vermont every year.”