More than 380 million gallons of used oil are recycled in the United States every year. Unfortunately, about the same amount enters oceans annually because of spills, extraction and transportation. Because oil doesn’t dissolve in water, it can kill aquatic life and thwart plant development over the course of weeks or decades. Managing used oil properly preserves this valuable resource and minimizes the chances it will be released to water.
Used oil is hazardous when it is released to the water, soil and air. But it is also a valuable commodity that can be recycled. In fact, it takes about 42 gallons of crude oil to create 2.5 quarts of lubricating oil — but just one gallon of used oil can be re-refined to produce the same volume.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s Used Oil Management Regulation [40 CFR 279] reflects the organization’s view on this. Instead of being required to handle, store and manage used oil as a hazardous waste, facilities that choose to recycle their used oil can take advantage of the relaxed handling and management standards this regulation provides.
Facilities with large amounts of used oil are still required to follow SPCC regulations, if they apply to the facility, and used oil that is managed in underground storage tanks is still subject to applicable underground storage tank requirements. But for facilities that aren’t subject to these two regulations, most of the requirements of the Used Oil Regulation are good housekeeping practices, including:
- Labeling tanks and containers with the words “used oil”
- Not mixing used oil with other hazardous wastes
- Keeping tanks and containers in good condition with no leaks, rust or other forms of deterioration
Being prepared for spills is also a requirement. If oil leaks or spills, facilities must:
- Stop the release
- Contain the release
- Clean up and manage the spill-related waste properly
- Repair or replace leaking containers, tanks or pipelines prior to returning them to service
The EPA does not specify how a facility must prepare for releases — only that they need to be prepared. Spill kits, drain covers, vacuums and other remediation products are all popular choices. Just make sure that everyone knows how to use any products and tools that may be needed during response and cleanup.
Properly managing used oil and recycling it instead of discarding it prevents pollution and conserves valuable, finite oil resources. Establishing good housekeeping measures and being prepared for oil spills helps to ensure that used oil can be recycled efficiently, keeping it out of landfills and waterways.
You tell us: What does your company do with used oil?