Vehicles worldwide use more than 3.7 billion gallons of motor oil each year. That’s enough to fill more than 5,600 Olympic size swimming pools. Used motor oil is hazardous -- inside a vehicle’s engine, oil picks up toxic chemicals and heavy metals including lead, cadmium, chromium, arsenic, and dioxins. Worse, motor oil is insoluble, slow to degrade, and sticks to everything it touches, including sand and animals. When poured down drains or sewer grates, or tossed in the garbage, used motor oil contaminates waterways, harms wildlife, and can even pollute drinking water sources.
Used oil from a single oil change (about 4 quarts) can ruin 1 million gallons of water. Auto repair shops and oil change businesses are required to recycle used motor oil. But many car owners in the U.S. change their own oil. These citizens rely on infrequent, often underfunded, and inconvenient local household hazardous waste events for recycling.
Fortunately, used motor oil can be cleaned (re-refined) and infinitely recycled into new motor oil. It takes less energy to re-refine used motor oil than to produce new motor oil from crude oil. Moreover, just one gallon of used motor oil makes 2.4 quarts of new motor oil, while it takes 42 gallons of crude oil to produce the same amount.
It should be easy for car owners to recycle used oil. PSI advocates for “extended producer responsibility” (EPR) laws that require manufacturers to finance and run convenient, year-round recycling programs. EPR programs for used motor oil have been operating in Canada and Europe for 25 years. The best programs collect over 90 percent of used oil at little to no net cost. Programs like the Used Oil Management Associations of Canada turn collected motor oil into 100-percent recycled-content products.
How We’re Leading the Way
Educating key stakeholders about used oil management is the first step toward bringing EPR for used motor oil to the U.S. PSI’s global webinar, Make Every Drop Count, explains the process of turning used oil into high quality re-refined oil, and examines existing EPR systems. The recording and slides are a valuable educational resource for local government officials, state environmental and transportation agency officials, people working in industries that use and manage motor oil, and legislators.
PSI facilitates the sharing of best practices across borders. We are building a global network of used oil experts who share key lessons, discuss challenges, and develop solutions to establish, promote, and enhance EPR programs for used motor oil management in the U.S. and globally. Join the conversation! Contact Us.
Research is essential to the development of strong legislation and effective EPR programs for used motor oil. PSI is exploring the problems, potential solutions, barriers, and opportunities for used motor oil EPR in the U.S. related to infrastructure, funding, education, and behavior.
When you change your vehicle’s oil, return the used oil (and the filter) to your local household hazardous waste program or find a recycling location near you. Do NOT throw it out, pour it down the drain, or dump it in the sewer.
Choose re-refined lubricants for your car, motorcycle, truck, boat, or RV. Any vehicle that uses new motor oil can easily take re-refined motor oil, which is a high quality product. If you manage a fleet, you can have an even greater impact by choosing re-refined oil for your vehicles.