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Managing Used Oil: Advice for Small Businesses

mechanic working under the hood of a car

This fact sheet contains valuable information for businesses such as service stations, fleet maintenance facilities, and "quick lube" shops that generate and handle used oil. It summarizes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) used oil management standards--a set of "good housekeeping" requirements for used oil handlers. These requirements are detailed in Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)Part 279. Small businesses should also refer to EPA's Emergency Response Division's Information Line at 202 260-2342 for information on how to manage spills.

What is Used Oil?

EPA's regulatory definition of used oil is as follows: 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. Simply put, used oil is exactly what its name implies—any petroleum-based or synthetic oil that has been used. During normal use, impurities such as dirt, metal scrapings, water, or chemicals can get mixed in with the oil, so that in time the oil no longer performs well. Eventually, this used oil must be replaced with virgin or re-refined oil to do the job at hand EPA's used oil management standards include a three-pronged approach to determine if a substance meets the definition of used oil. To meet EPA's definition of used oil, a substance must meet each of the following three criteria:

Table of What Used Oil Is and Is Not

Used Oil Is:*

Used Oil Is Not:

  • Synthetic oil — usually derived from coal, shale, or polymer-based starting material.
  • Engine oil — typically includes gasoline and diesel engine crankcase oils and piston-engine oils for automobiles, trucks, boats, airplanes, locomotives, and heavy equipment.
  • Transmission fluid.
  • Refrigeration oil.
  • Compressor oils.
  • Metalworking fluids and oils.
  • Laminating oils.
  • Industrial hydraulic fluid.
  • Copper and aluminum wire drawing solution.
  • Electrical insulating oil.
  • Industrial process oils.
  • Oils used as buoyants.
* This list does not include all types of used oil.
  • Waste oil that is bottom clean-out waste from virgin fuel storage tanks, virgin fuel oil spill cleanups, or other oil wastes that have not actually been used.
  • Products such as antifreeze and kerosene.
  • Vegetable and animal oil, even when used as a lubricant.
  • Petroleum distillates used as solvents.

Oils that do not meet EPA's definition of used oil can still pose a threat to the environment when disposed of and could be subject to the RCRA regulations for hazardous waste management.

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How is Used Oil Recycled?

Once oil has been used, it can be collected, recycled, and used over and over again. An estimated 380 million gallons of used oil are recycled each year. Recycled used oil can sometimes be used again for the same job or can take on a completely different task. For example, used motor oil can be re-refined and sold at the store as motor oil or processed for furnace fuel oil. Aluminum rolling oils also can be filtered on site and used over again.

Used Oil Can Be Recycled in the Following Ways
Recycling Used Oil Is Good for the Environment and the Economy - Here's Proof

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Does My Business Handle Used Oil?

The following paragraphs describe different types of businesses that handle used oil.

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What Standards Should My Business Follow?

If your business generates or handles used oil, there are certain good housekeeping practices that you must follow. These required practices, called "management standards," were developed by EPA for businesses that handle used oil. The management standards are common sense, good business practices designed to ensure the safe handling of used oil, to maximize recycling, and to minimize disposal. The standards apply to all used oil handlers, regardless of the amount of the oil they handle. Although different used oil handlers may have specific requirements, the following requirements are common to all types of handlers. These requirements relate to storage and to cleaning up leaks and spills, as follows.

Oil Leaks and Spills
Record Keeping
EPA uses 12-digit identification (ID) numbers to track used oil. Transporters hauling used oil must have a valid EPA ID number, and generators, collection centers, and aggregation points must use transporters with EPA ID numbers for shipping used oil off site. If you need an ID number, contact your EPA regional office or your state director. Generators, collection centers, aggregation points, and any handler that transports used oil in shipments of less than 55 gallons do not need an ID number, but may need a state or local permit.

Used oil transporters, processors, burners, and marketers also must record each acceptance and delivery of used oil shipments. Records can take the form of a log, invoice, or other shipping document and must be maintained for three years. Re-refiners, processors, transfer facilities, and burners must have secondary containment systems (e.g.,oil-impervious dike, berm, or retaining wall and a floor) so that oil can not reach the environment in the event of a leak or spill. EPA also encourages generators to use a secondary containment system to prevent used oil from contaminating the environment.

Burners of used oil that meets a certain set of quality standards called the used oil specifications are not regulated under the used oil management standards, as long as the used oil is burned in appropriate boilers, furnaces, or incinerators.

Know and understand your state regulations governing the management of used oil they might be stricter than EPA's. Contact your state or local environmental agency to determine your best course of action.

Mixing Used Oil and Hazardous Waste
In addition to EPA's used oil management standards, your business may be required to comply with federal and state hazardous waste regulations if your used oil becomes contaminated from mixing it with hazardous waste. If used oil is mixed with hazardous waste, it probably will have to be managed as a hazardous waste. Hazardous waste disposal is a lengthy, costly, and strict regulatory process. The only way to be sure your used oil does not become contaminated with hazardous waste is to store it separately from all solvents and chemicals and not to mix it with anything.

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How Should My Business Manage Used Oil Filters?

The Filter Manufacturers' Council maintains a regulatory hotline and database to encourage the proper management of used oil filters. By calling the hotline at 800 99-FILTER, you can access the proper management requirements for your particular states. The database contains:

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How Can My Business Avoid Costly Cleanups?

Meeting the following conditions relieves service station dealers from responsibility for costly cleanups and liabilities associated with off-site handling of used oil. To meet these conditions, service stations must:

  1. Comply with the management standards described above;
  2. Do not mix used oil with any hazardous substance; and
  3. Accept used oil from Do-it-yourselfers (DIYs) and send it for recycling.
Recommended Cleanup Practices
EPA recommends, but does not require, the following cleanup practices for used oil handlers: (1) maximize the recovery of used oil; (2) minimize the generation of used oil sorbent waste by choosing reusable sorbent materials; (3) use the spent sorbent materials to produce recycled sorbent materials; and (4) buy sorbent materials with recycled content.

Extraction devices (e.g., centrifuges, wringers, and compactors) can be used to recover used oil from reusable sorbent materials. Sorbent pads can be reused between two and eight times depending on the viscosity of the used oil. These technologies, while not required, can be used to reduce the number of sorbent pads ultimately sent for remanufacture, energy recovery, or disposal. The potential to reduce waste and save money (i.e., lower disposal costs for spent pads and lower per use cost of sorbent pads) by reusing and recycling sorbent pads can be substantial.

Managing Cleanup Materials
If you have used oil on rags or other sorbent materials from cleaning up a leak or spill, you should remove as much of the free-flowing oil as possible and manage the oil as you would have before it spilled. Once the free-flowing used oil has been removed from these materials, they are not considered used oil and may be managed as solid waste as long as they do not exhibit a hazardous waste characteristic. Note, however, that materials from which used oil has been removed continue to be regulated as used oil if they are to be burned for energy recovery (regardless of the degree of removal).

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What Else Can My Business Do to Conserve Oil?

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