Disposing of waste oil can be tricky and potentially dangerous. While the Environmental Protection Agency does have standards for waste oil disposal, each state is responsible for setting the final rules and regulations.

To properly dispose of waste or used oil there are a number of steps you should take, which will be outlined below. Before you dispose of used or waste oil, it’s always a good idea to consult your state or local regulatory office to get the most accurate information as different states have different requirements for waste and used oil disposal. After that, you can start to apply the safe disposal methods to the right type of oil.

What Is Waste Oil?

Waste oil is any petroleum-based or synthetic oil that can’t be used as originally intended (e.g., used motor oil). This is typically due to contamination, impurities, and other factors that affect its functionality. Waste oil can be hazardous, so may require different disposal techniques. Check with your state or local regulatory office for more information.

What Is Used Oil?

Used oil is slightly different. Used oil is any petroleum-based or synthetic oil that has been used as was originally intended but is now contaminated by impurities, either chemical or physical. An example would be used motor oil.

To be classified as used oil, a substance must meet the following three criteria:

  • Origin – Used oil must have been refined from crude oil or made from synthetic materials.
  • Use – Oils that are used as lubricants, hydraulic fluids, heat transfer fluids, buoyant, and for other similar purposes are considered used oil. Unused oils such as bottom clean-out waste from virgin fuel oil storage tanks or virgin fuel oil recovered from a spill, do not meet EPA’s definition of used oil because these oils have never been “used.” EPA’s definition also excludes products used as cleaning agents or used solely for their solvent properties, as well as certain petroleum-derived products like antifreeze and kerosene.
  • Contaminants – In other words, to meet the EPA’s definition, used oil must become contaminated as a result of being used. This aspect of EPA’s definition includes residues and contaminants generated from handling, storing, and processing used oil. Physical contaminants could include metal shavings, sawdust, or dirt. Chemical contaminants could include solvents, halogens, or saltwater.

Why Is Waste Oil Potentially Dangerous?

Just because it is contaminated does not always mean that the contamination of the oil comes from hazardous or dangerous materials. However, it is dangerous to handle oil if you suspect it has been contaminated. Determining whether or not waste oil is hazardous is difficult. If you suspect contamination, contact your local environmental agency for more information.

Waste and used oils can also be harmful to the environment when not disposed of properly. Dumping used oil is especially harmful to wildlife and the environment, including waterways and populated areas. As we all know by now, oil spills are costly and detrimental to the environment, wildlife and people.

Additionally, if these oils are burned inefficiently, toxins are released into the air and become dangerous pollutants that can cause long-lasting damage to people and wildlife. Finding the right way to dispose of waste oil is the only way to guarantee that you and the environment are safe.

10 Tips for Safe Waste Oil Disposal

  1. Know your oil. Regulations for disposal can vary by substance and by state. Not only that, but if you don’t know what you are trying to dispose of, you are putting yourself and possibly others in danger. Some waste oils can be disposed of with heaters and boilers, while others must be outsourced to a waste disposal firm or location. Understanding the materials that you’re working with is necessary to determine the most appropriate method of disposal.
  2. Handle waste oil carefully. Waste oil is nothing to take lightly. As a potentially hazardous substance, you should take the necessary precautions. The proper use of personal protective equipment should be applied to prevent injury or illness. Eating, drinking, and handling other objects that can transfer hazardous material should always be avoided when disposing of waste oil.
  3. Store waste properly. Controlled disposal requires proper storage. Did you know that ordinary fuel tanks are insufficient for disposal? Instead, there are waste oil tanks available to manage any issues. Furthermore, inadequate storage increases the risk of unknown contaminants, which can produce dangerous and unmanageable results. Always check that materials are properly sealed, separated, and stored in a cool, dry environment.
  4. Consider recycling waste oil by burning it. Waste oil recycling can be achieved by burning waste oil. With the advent of new technologies and the rise of waste-oil heaters, burning waste oil now is considered convenient and safe, transforming a once useless waste into a reusable energy source. However, if you are interested in burning used oil, you’ll need to make sure you have an efficient waste-oil heater to complete the process.
  5. Contact a local waste oil disposal service. If you are not able to burn your waste oil or would like someone else to deal with the disposal, you can contact a local facility or association to retrieve and dispose of the oil. You should be able to find a list of facilities provided by your state. However, it’s important to remember that even though you are paying someone to dispose of your waste oil, you are still liable should anything happen. This is called Cradle-to-Grave liability and it should be taken into consideration.
  6. Choose a boiler designed for waste oil. Not all boilers are created equal. Waste-oil boilers have been developed to burn waste oil, are made from carbon steel instead of cast iron, and are ASME There will be different options available based on your needs, so it’s best to consult one of UOMA’s members for more information and options.
  7. Use a boiler or heater that produces the hottest flames.One of the key elements of a waste-oil boiler is to select one that burns hot enough to achieve total combustion. With total combustion, you can ensure you are getting the greatest output and avoiding harmful contaminants.
  8. Choose a waste-oil burner with easy maintenance. The harder a product is to clean, the more likely it is to house unsafe contaminants and harm you and the environment. No matter your boiler or heater, you will still have to deal with residual product that builds up over time. Cleaning coils can be tedious work. Thankfully, most waste-oil boilers are designed with cleaning mechanisms such as a sweep-away burner, swing-open boiler door, or an ash removal port, which can make maintenance a breeze.
  9. Always use disposal equipment properly and for its intended purpose. It doesn’t matter if you are burning used oil, storing waste oil, or recycling waste oil, it is vital that you only use the equipment for it’s intended purpose. The harm to the environment, people, and a business that could occur from the misuse of equipment is nothing to play around with these days.
  10. Use EPA-approved equipment. The EPA has developed standards to uphold the proper use of waste and used oil for heating and energy. It’s the reason why many waste oil heaters can only burn a limited range of fuels because the equipment has not been approved by the EPA for that use. Before you purchase, make sure your equipment is up to code.

For more information on how to properly dispose of waste oil, contact UOMA or read more on our resources page.