How to Collect and Recycle Your Used Motor Oil

by Earth 911 Staff on April 2nd, 2007

What is used motor oil?

Every car, truck and bus on the road uses motor oil in their engines.  Every three to five thousand miles, this oil has to be replaced. As a result of normal use, motor oil becomes contaminated with various impurities such as dirt, water, chemicals or metals from your engine. Some governmental jurisdictions classify used motor oil as hazardous. Because of these “impurities,” used motor oil should be handled with care and disposed of correctly to ensure the safety of the local community, environment and waterways.

Tips on Collecting Your Used Motor Oil


Learn how to properly dispose of used motor oil and oil filters.

Did you know that each year over 180 million gallons of motor oil are disposed of illegally by people who change the oil in their trucks and cars? Never put motor oil in the trash or pour it on the ground or into a storm drain. Motor oil can be 100% recycled! Many oil change centers and auto part stores will take your oil hassle free. Many waste haulers offer curbside collection of used motor oil as well.


The Many Uses of Recycled Motor Oil

Oil BarrelRecycling used motor oil keeps oil out of landfills and ensures that this oil is available for re-use, reconditioning, reprocessing or re-refining. From a purely environmental point of view, the best thing that the motor oil consumer can do is to buy a longer-lasting oil. In that way, less used oil is generated in the first place. Over 380 million gallons of used oil is recycled each year which equates to over 50% of all motor oil purchased annually. Currently, used motor oil can be re-used or recycled one of three ways – reconditioning, reprocessing or re-refining. It is important to note that each process can be important in helping to manage the overall volume of used motor oil in the U.S.

Proper, modern Re-refining  can successfully treat used motor oil to remove impurities so that it can be used  for new lubricating oil. In other words, with good design and process management the used oil can be re-refined into “new” oil, giving it a second life so it can be used for vehicle motor oil again.  Currently only 14% of used motor oil is re-refined and the consumer demand for this product has not made re-refining economically profitable for oil manufacturers - so most times it actually costs the consumer more money. 

In some industries, oil is filtered through a commercial filtration system or otherwise cleaned. This process helps remove insoluble impurities so the oil potentially can be used again and again. Although the cleaning process does not always bring the oil back to its original quality, such cleaning, when combined with replenishment of key additives, does extend the oil’s life and use.

Re-Use and Reprocessing
When an oil can no longer perform its original lubrication job, it may be perfectly suitable for  a second life as a fuel petroleum product in power plants which burn oil to make electricity.   74% of all oil re-use/recycling in the U.S. is for burning in power plants either publicly or privately owned. An additional 11% of used motor oil is burned in specifically designed industrial space heaters.