The Importance of Used Motor Oil Recycling

In today's world, automobiles are an important and necessary part of everyday life. Most automobiles require motor oil and other fluids like transmission and brake fluid to run properly. To keep a vehicle running well, an owner should change the vehicle's motor oil and fluids regularly as defined by the manufacturer. With regular maintenance comes a responsibility to know how and where to properly recycle used motor oil and associated vehicle fluids within your local community.

Nationally there are more than 12,000 community-based oil recycling locations provided by either your local government or private businesses such as auto parts stores or service stations. According to the American Petroleum Institute (API), over 600 million gallons of motor oil is purchased each year. Over half of this amount (345 million gallons) is purchased by the "do-it-yourself" vehicle owner (DIYers) - those that change their own oil.

As a DIY oil changer, you can have a positive impact on your local environment by properly handling and recycling your used motor oil and vehicle fluids.

What is used motor oil?

According to the U.S. EPA, used motor oil is any petroleum-based or synthetic oil that has been used for vehicle lubrication. As a result of normal use, motor oil becomes contaminated with various impurities such as dirt, water, chemicals or metals from your engine.

Some governmental jurisdictions classify used motor oil as hazardous. It may contain additives (e.g. rust inhibitors), contaminants (e.g. heavy metals generated through engine wear, or externally introduced materials such as PCBs from old transformer oils), potentially carcinogenic, polycyclic, aromatic compounds (from the fuel combustion process), or glycol leaked from the cooling system. Because of these "impurities," used motor oil should be handled with care and disposed of correctly to ensure the safety of the local community, environment and waterways.

Is oil a valuable resource?

Oil originates from fossil fuels and is a valuable resource both in its original form and as a recyclable substance. Oil can be reused and recycled through reconditioning, reprocessing and re-refining. These recycling efforts help to:

  • Conserve natural resources
  • Protect the environment
  • Reuse an existing resource
  • Save energy
  • Save money

In addition, used motor oil is a valuable energy resource. A large portion of the used motor oil collected is reprocessed into fuel that is burned in furnaces, turbines, power plants and manufacturing facilities to provide heat and electricity. To put this into perspective, two gallons of used motor oil can generate enough electricity to:

  • Power the average home for one day
  • Cook 48 meals in a microwave oven
  • Blow-dry a person's hair at least 216 times
  • Vacuum a house for 15 months
  • Watch television for 7 ½ days straight! (180 hours)

Why is it important to keep oil out of our waterways?

Proper recycling will ensure that used motor oil does not make its way into local surface and groundwater resources. Should oil get into the environment, it can quickly pollute large amounts of water. For instance, one gallon of motor oil can:

  • Create an oil slick on surface water up to eight acres in size
  • Contaminate one million gallons of freshwater. That is a year's supply of water for 50 people!
  • Render a four-acre area of soil unusable for planting for decades

In addition, used oil is insoluble, slow to degrade, and very sticky which poses a health threat to humans, plants, animals and the environment.

How do I know if I am improperly disposing of used motor oil?

If you are pouring used motor oil on the ground, into a storm drain or throwing it in your trash can (even in a sealed container), you are improperly disposing of your used motor oil. This used motor oil can work its way to local lakes, streams and water ways, polluting local water bodies and drinking water supplies, as well as damaging aquatic environments and wildlife. Used motor oil may contain potentially toxic substances, such as lead, benzene, zinc or magnesium. According to the U.S. EPA, over 40% of our nation's oil pollution comes from the improper disposal of used motor oil by DIYers.