Recycle Your Used Motor Oil

New Outlets for Old Oil Make Recycling Easy

One of the hardest parts of changing your own oil is disposing of that pan of hot black goop. But in recent years, this chore has gotten a lot easier, thanks to motor oil recycling programs sponsored by cities, auto parts stores and designated collection sites.

Some cities, such as Long Beach, California, offer curbside pickup for used motor oil and old oil filters. Residents call first to request a pick-up. Then city workers take away the old oil. They also leave replacement containers and plastic bags for filters. In other communities, such as Berkeley, California, recycling centers will pay 16 cents per gallon for oil.

More than 30 percent of motorists change their own oil, generating between 43 and 62 million gallons of used oil annually, according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) survey. The EPA says recycling protects public health by keeping used oil, which contains heavy metals and toxins, out of groundwater supplies. It also saves energy. One gallon of re-refined motor oil produces 2.5 quarts of lubricating oil. It takes 42 gallons of crude oil to produce the same amount of new oil, the EPA says.

Most major auto-parts stores have recognized the importance of being the places where do-it-yourselfers can recycle their old oil after a change. Both Pep Boys and AutoZone, two of the nation's biggest auto parts franchises, accept used motor oil. AutoZone recycled 9.5 million gallons of oil in 2010, according to its Web site.

Despite the increase in recycling locations, getting used oil from here to there can still be a messy affair, particularly if you're unprepared or lack the right materials. Here are some tips to make recycling your oil quick and easy:

  • Before beginning an oil change, check your community's Web site to see if it offers curbside oil pick-up. If not, check your local auto parts store or the Web site, which will help you find recycling centers.
  • Choose an oil drain pan that can be tightly sealed for easily transporting the used oil to a recycling center. The center will dump the oil into a large bin and return the drain pan to you for future use.
  • Wear plastic gloves while you're doing the oil change and transferring the old oil into containers. Keep plenty of rags handy for wiping up spills.
  • Make sure the oil containers do not have other liquids inside, such as antifreeze, that could contaminate the oil and make it unfit for recycling.
  • Put a drop cloth or newspapers under the drain pan while you're changing your oil. Transfer the oil to containers on this surface.
  • Consider using an oil extractor. An extractor minimizes the chances of dripping oil and makes it easier to transfer the old oil to recycling containers.
  • Cover your car's floor mats or trunk with a plastic bag and old newspapers before loading your oil container. Newspapers will absorb small spills and the plastic bag will prevent the oil from soaking into your floor mats.
  • If you spill oil during recycling, use cat litter or an oil absorbent to soak it up. Sawdust will also work to soak up small spills.