Prior to 1970, there were no US laws or regulations in place around the disposal of solid and hazardous waste. That all changed with Richard Nixon. Dirty water, smog-filled air, overflowing landfills and an oil spill off the California Coast escalated into heightened public concern about environmental damage. The result was the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and later on October 21, 1976, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. A key component of these new laws and regulations was the establishment of cradle-to-grave liability.

What Does Cradle to Grave Mean?

The cradle-to-grave regulation makes producers and users of hazardous waste liable for the safe management of that waste from the time it is created until it’s ultimate disposal, including safe handling during transportation, treatment, and storage.  

Ultimately, cradle-to-grave liability means a business is liable for the proper disposal of used oil from the moment the oil drains into a pan until it is processed or burned. This includes any accidental spills or improper dumping by a used oil hauler. 

Therefore, it is imperative for industries and facilities that generate waste oil, handle antifreeze, and use oil filters to understand their hazardous waste liability and consider ways to minimize future liability. Knowing what options are available to reduce cradle-to-grave liability is the first step in a successful, long-term hazardous waste management program.

The Risks Associated with Transporting Waste Oil

The first part of the equation, the cradle, is considered the types and quantity of waste material generated. The more hazardous waste generated, the bigger the liability to ensure it’s disposed of correctly. When disposing of the material, you’ll need to pay special attention to the transporter as there are regulations set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) that must be met. It includes strict rules around what containers can be used for hazardous waste and how to label and mark containers appropriately. 

Following that, you’ll need to ensure you are working with a registered hazardous waste transportation company

Recycle What You Can

Disposal of hazardous waste to a landfill, while possible in some locations with a special permit, should be a last resort. As a generator of hazardous waste, the ultimate liability for the hazardous waste remains with you, even after it hits the landfill. If contamination occurs, and hazardous waste enters the environment, you can still be held financially responsible for the cleanup costs. Choosing a reputable Treatment, Storage, and Disposal Facility (TSDF) could help minimize your liability. However, a better solution is to recycle.

Recycling waste oil involves removing the dirty particles so that it can be used again. After oil has been used and becomes contaminated, it can go through a variety of processes to filter, clean, and recycle the oil. There are a number of oil recycling processes and a variety of end uses. Some waste oil can be reconditioned on site to be used again immediately. Waste oil can also be re-refined to a product that is virtually identical to virgin oil, reducing the amount of new oil that a business must purchase. Additionally, waste oil can be collected or dropped off at used oil collection points where the used oil can be fed into the front end of a petroleum refining process to produce gasoline. 

Whatever the method, recycling used oil is preferable to landfill disposal or paying to have valuable used oil disposed of off site. Recycling waste oil reduces cradle-to-grave liability, mitigates negative impacts on the environment, and encourages more sustainable energy solutions. 

Use Waste Oil as Fuel

Another alternative to landfill disposal is processing waste oil and burning it for energy recovery. When waste oil is repurposed as fuel, it’s typically processed and reused on-site. This method of recycling eliminates the need for the collection and transportation of used oil off site, which carries the potential for spillage and increased cradle-to-grave liability. 

Almost every kind of oil can be repurposed as fuel, and these oils can power heating systems or the evaporators used in water/oil separators. The result is a complete in-house recycling process for turning waste oil into energy. Using waste oil as a combustion agent for a heating apparatus has an added benefit for businesses: reduced utility bills.

Although a business must invest in a waste oil heater and boiler to use waste oil as fuel, the costs usually pay for themselves within a year. Thus, this method is one of the most efficient and cost effective ways larger businesses and producers of waste oil can manage their cradle-to-grave liability. 

Seek Advice from UOMA

Unfortunately, there is no one thing that can exempt you and your company from cradle-to-grave liability, therefore it is imperative to reduce your risks and exposures. Recycling waste oil and using waste oil as fuel reduces waste oil disposal, which in turn can help reduce accidental spill and landfill contamination.  

The Used Oil Management Association can help your business make better informed decisions about the disposal of hazardous waste. We can help you evaluate your current waste disposal processes and offer suggestions for waste management improvements including the equipment you are using, the manner in which you store waste, and how you dispose of waste oil. Contact us today with your questions on how to minimize your cradle-to-grave liability.