You can’t drive very far on any urban major street without passing one.
Even so, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 30% of American motorists still like to do their own oil changes.
Motor oil does not wear out. You need to change it because it gets dirty. What do you do with the old oil? Here’s what not to do
- Pour it down a storm drain
- Dump it on land somewhere
- Put it in your trash container
- In short, anything but get it recycled
Improper (hazardous) disposal vs proper (safe) disposal
Americans improperly dispose 200 million gallons of used oil every year.
Motor oil is toxic to all life: humans, pets, wildlife, and plants. It picks up numerous contaminants during use, including metal scrapings. So used oil is even worse.
It doesn’t readily dissolve in anything and degrades very slowly. It sticks to everything. Remember all the oiled birds and beaches from the BP oil spill? Motor oil is no less sticky than crude oil.
The amount of oil drained from one car can contaminate a million gallons of fresh water. That’s as much as 50 people use in a year. Taking used oil out to the country and dumping it contaminates the soil, and it will eventually get into the groundwater.
So why not just put it in a closed container and put it in the trash? Garbage trucks compress their loads throughout the day. By the time they dump your container of used oil, it’s broken, or at least damaged.
The oil not only contaminates the rest of the trash, it mixes with all everything else in the truck. No chemistry teacher would ever allow students to mix different chemicals at random. For one thing, the combinations might create even more hazardous substances. But our landfills have become precisely that irresponsible and dangerous experiment.
There is only one safe way to dispose of used oil: recycle it.
The easiest way for do-it-yourself oil changers to recycle used oil is to take it to one of these businesses. What’s a few more quarts to them? Back when I changed my own oil, I got some funny looks, but not one garage or quick oil change business refused to accept my contribution.
Some communities are experimenting with curbside recycling of household hazardous wastes (including used oil among a lot of other things).
There are only three things to keep in mind.
- Be careful not to spill a drop of the oil.
- Put it in a metal or plastic container that has a secure lid.
- Do not put it in a container that has held household chemicals like antifreeze, gasoline, paint, solvents, bleach, pesticides, etc.
Environmental benefits of recycling oil
Every year, oil recyclers reprocess 750 million gallons of used oil. The restored oil can be used to make asphalt for building or repairing roads. It can be burned as a heat source in furnaces or electric generating plants.
Just two gallons of recycled oil can generate the amount of electricity the average American household uses in a whole day.
Or, best of all, it can be rerefined so that it meets the same standards as virgin oil. And then, perhaps, lubricate another car for a while.
Consider: One gallon of used oil makes 2.5 quarts of high quality rerefined oil. It takes 42 gallons of crude oil to make that much! It also requires much less energy to rerefine oil than to refine the crude.
So besides preventing oil from polluting water or soil, it saves energy and cuts down on the need for drilling new oil.
Oh, and while you’re recycling the oil, don’t forget to drain your oil filter and take it to the same place you take the oil.