Anyone with a car, lawn mower, or recreational vehicle knows a thing or two about motor oil.
In short, motor oil is used to lubricate engines, provide protection from wear, maintain viscosity through different temperatures, prevent acid buildup, and clean your engine’s components.
According to the AAA, most engines require an oil change at intervals of 5,000 to 7,500 miles. However, because motor oil is made from a combination of oil and other additives, it’s not safe to merely dump old motor oil down the drain or put a full container of oil into your household waste bin.
Motor oil contains toxic chemicals and heavy metals that can have detrimental effects on human health if not disposed of properly.
So, here’s everything you should know.
How Harmful is Improper Motor Oil Disposal?
To be blunt, old oil and other automotive fluids are a major toxic pollutant.
Motor oil picks up tons of hazardous waste – including lead, cadmium, chromium, arsenic, and others – during its use in engines and transmissions. If it isn’t disposed of properly, these contaminants are released into the environment and harm plants, animals, and humans.
Whenever contaminated oil is put into your regular garbage or a household waste bin, it will eventually end up in a landfill. The oil then has the potential to seep into the soil, which contaminates ground water. This puts many plants, animals, and human communities in jeopardy.
In fact, according to British Columbia Used Oil Management Association (BCUOMA), “a single drop of used motor oil can contaminate a million drops of water.” And according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “used oil from one oil change can contaminate one million gallons of fresh water – a year’s supply for 50 people!”
Can Motor Oil be Recycled?
The best way to prevent improper disposal and avoid contaminating the environment is to recycle your used motor oil. Recycled oil actually goes through a re-refining process that makes it once again safe for vehicle use. This involves removing any impurities and adding additives that allow the oil to be re-burned as fuel. Used oil filters are typically crushed and recycled as scrap metal.
As opposed to “42 gallons of crude oil to produce 2 ½ quarts of refined virgin motor oil, re-refining creates that same amount of engine-ready product from only one gallon of used oil,” according to Family Handy Man.
Not only is recycling your used motor oil good for the environment, but it is incredibly energy-efficient as well.
How to Properly Dispose of Motor Oil
Lucky for you, motor oil can be properly disposed in just a few steps.
Step 1: Contain All Oil
Lay down a tarp or an absorbent sheet to catch any potential spills. Then, position a container on top of the tarp underneath the engine’s drainage point. (We recommend using a drip oil pan and a spout.) Then, simply catch the oil as it drains.
Step 2: Don’t Forget the Oil Filter
When properly disposing of your used motor oil, it’s important not to forget oil filters. To drain, puncture a small hole in the oil filter and let the vehicle's oil drain into your drip pan. Then, seal the filter in a plastic bag.
Step 3: Move to a Leak-Proof Container
Some drip oil pans are able to be sealed, but if not, you’ll need to transfer your oil into a transportation-safe container and ensure that it’s tightly sealed. Now, it’s incredibly important that you don’t use just any old container that you have lying around the house.
A great option is to use the container that the oil originally came in. Or, if that’s unavailable, you should use a container that’s made of polyethylene.
Step 4: Don’t Mix
Be careful not to mix your used oil with other liquids – including things like antifreeze, brake fluids, or even water – it becomes unrecyclable. Also, make sure your storage container of choice has never been used to hold other liquids.
Step 5: Store Used Motor Oil
While you wait for the chance to drop your motor oil off at an oil recycling facility, you want to store your sealed container in a place that is dry, cool, and undisturbed.
Where to Take Your Used Motor Oil?
Used motor oil that is properly collected can be recycled at a number of drop off locations. Most retailers that sell motor oil – including many auto parts stores like Autozone, Advanced Auto, O’Reilly Auto, and even Walmart – will accept your used motor oil.
Some service stations with recycling programs will also accept your used motor oil, given that it’s clean. There are also used oil collection sites that will accept oil. A toxic waste disposal center may be difficult to find in certain areas, however.
If you’re having trouble finding a recycling center near you, you can use Earth911’s iRecycleOil feature to find a drop off location that’s within your neighborhood. Always seek out collection centers of some kind for proper oil recycling.
Final Note on Motor Oil Disposal
Everyone who drives a car will have to think about motor oil disposal at some point or another; make sure you’re prepared! Whether you’re due for an oil change, or your engine has sprung a leak, remember what we’ve talked about. Trust us, you don’t want to be the reason one million gallons of drinking water have been contaminated with hazardous waste.
Thank you in advanced for doing your part and taking the time to properly dispose of your used motor oil. We promise, saving the environment is worth it.
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