What is Used Oil and Why You Should Recycle It
Oil is used across the United States to help us move from one place to another, and it plays a role in the creation of many frequently used goods. Through its various applications, oil encounters impurities and loses its characteristics that make it valuable and useful. And once it reaches this state, it can no longer efficiently serve its original purpose. It cannot be poured down the drain or released into the environment. Instead, used oil must be disposed of properly — or better yet, recycled for reuse.
What Is Used Oil?
Used oil is “any oil that has been refined from crude oil or any synthetic oil that has been used, and as a result of such use, is contaminated by physical or chemical impurities,” as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Common examples include used motor oil from vehicles, used hydraulic fluid from machinery, and used coolant oil from a mechanical system.
In order to meet the EPA’s definition of used oil, three conditions must be met:
- Used oil must originate from crude oil or be made from synthetic substances.
- As implied by the name, oil must have been previously used in the following forms, but is not limited to: lubricants, heat transfer fluids, transmission fluids, hydraulic fluids, and buoyants.
- Used oil must be contaminated from its use. Common impurities include dirt, metal scrapings, water, or other chemical residues that were introduced from handling, storing, processing, or through their application.
Notably, some typical examples of misinterpretations of used oil include:
- Waste oil, which is generally defined as off-specification product oil that cannot be used or was decided not to be used and destined for disposal
- Waste oil isolated from cleaning out virgin storage tanks
- Waste oil accumulated from cleaning up a virgin oil spill
- Petroleum derivatives such as kerosene or antifreeze
- Vegetable or animal oils (cooking oils)
- Petroleum products used as cleaning agents or solvents
How Is It Recycled?
Used oil can be recycled in various ways for reuse or repurpose in another application. The simplest form of recycling is reconditioning the oil. This is completed by filtering out the impurities, thus extending the oil’s life. Although the life of the oil is extended in this process, it is not guaranteed that the oil can be returned to its original state.
The most preferred form of recycling used oil is by re-refining it. When oil is re-refined, it is brought back to its original state and has the same properties it once had. This can be done perpetually, which allows the oil to be used many times over.
Additional forms of recycling include reinjecting the oil back into the petroleum refinery process or burning it for energy recovery.
What Are the Benefits?
Recycling used oil bears many benefits, including:
- Prevention of Harm to the Environment. Properly recycling oil prevents environmental pollution that can affect the health of the general population, wildlife and natural resources.
- Preservation of Resources. The EPA reports that roughly 380 million gallons of oil are recycled each year, which more effectively utilizes this valuable resource. In fact, it only takes one gallon of used oil to produce 2.5 quarts of new lubricating oil compared to 42 gallons of crude oil to produce the same.
- Conservation of Energy. When re-refining oil, approximately one-third of the energy is needed compared to the process of removing impurities in crude oil to reach lubricant quality. This means that energy expenditure is more efficiently managed.
- Cost Savings for your Company. Disposal of waste can be very expensive. However, it is often less expensive to recycle used oil than it is to dispose of it. In some cases, it can even be sold for a profit.
Get Help Handling and Recycling Used Oil
For more information on proper handling and transportation of used oil for recycling or disposal, reach out to EnviroServe at (800) 488-0910.