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How to Recycle Motor Oil - What Is Done With It?

written by: Rose Kivi•edited by: Sarah Malburg•updated: 2/9/2011

Motor oil can be recycled over and over again. Used motor oil can be re-refined through a special recycling process. Recycling motor oil produces a product equal in quality to virgin refined motor oil. Learn how motor oil is recycled and how you can get involved.

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    Why Recycle Used Motor Oil

    Used motor oil is toxic to the environment. It is insoluble and stays in the environment for a long time. It can contaminate ground surfaces, waterways and harm wildlife. "Used motor oil from one oil change can contaminate 1 million gallons of fresh water" according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Recycling motor oil keeps used oil from polluting the environment and it saves energy. For example, EcoPower re-refined oil takes "85 percent less energy to produce than that produced from crude oil" claims the manufacturer SafetyKleen. Not only is it environmentally friendly to recycle oil, in some states it is a law that oil must be recycled.

    Used motor oil from your car, boat, tractor and other engines can be recycled. The recycled oil is used to make re-refined motor oil, fuel and asphalt.

    The process of recycling motor oil requires expensive industrial equipment and cannot be done at home. You need to bring your properly stored used motor oil to an oil collection center that sends the oil to a recycling facility.

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    Storing Used Motor Oil

    Store your used motor oil in a clean plastic container fitted with a secure lid to prevent spills. It is important to use a clean container because recycling centers will not accept used motor oil that is contaminated with other fluids. You can purchase special containers for storing used motor oil at an automotive supply store or use another old washed out plastic container. Write "used motor oil" on the container so that you do not accidentally mistake it for another substance. Store the container of used motor oil safely in your garage or another protected area, until you are ready to bring it to a recycling center.

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    Recycling Motor Oil

    Take your used motor oil to an oil collection center. Oil collection centers collect used motor oil and send it to recycling facilities. Locate a motor oil collection center by doing one of the following:

    • Call your city government office and ask for a list of motor oil collection centers in your area.
    • Call Earth911 at 1-800-CLEANUP (1-800-253-2687) or visit their website to find an oil collection center in your area.
    • Ask local auto repair shops or gas stations that do oil changes if they collect motor oil for recycling.

    Some oil collection centers take used oil for free, others charge a small fee. Some centers, depending on your area, will pay you a small fee for your used oil.

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    What Happens to Used Motor Oil

    The process of recycling motor oil is similar to the process used to turn crude oil into refined motor oil. Recycled motor oil is called re-refined motor oil. To re-refine motor oil, special equipment is used to put the oil through multiple processes to make the oil suitable for use again.

    1. The used motor oil is inspected for contaminates such as paint, antifreeze or other substances that would make the oil unsuitable for recycling.
    2. Oil that passes the inspection is put through an evaporation process to remove the water in the oil.
    3. The oil is put through a vacuum distillation process to separate it into asphalt flux, gasoil and lube oil distillates. The asphalt flux is used to make asphalt, the gasoil for fuel and the lube oil distillates to make re-refined motor oil.
    4. The lube oil distillates are put through a hydrofinishing process. During the hydrofinishing process the oil is placed in a hydrotreating reactor that heats the oil at high temperatures, causing the oil to fractionate into 100 and 300 neutral base oil.
    5. The hydrotreated base oil is placed in a blender and mixed with detergents and other additives to make it usable as motor oil.
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    References

    EPA: Used Oil Management Program: www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/usedoil/

    SafetyKleen: EcoPower Re-Refined Motor Oil: www.safety-kleen.com/products/OilProducts/Pages/EcoPower.aspx

    CalRecycle: The Process: How Oil is Rerefined: www.calrecycle.ca.gov/usedoil/rerefined/Process.htm