Used Oil and Filters

An approach to end-of-life management

Business and market conditions being what they are, fleets are more focused, and more committed, to finding ways to reduce operating costs. More and more, fleets have come to the realization that by properly disposing and recycling used oil and used filters, they can save money, plus show they are environmentally conscious.

As a generator of used oil and used filters, maintenance shops are responsible for making sure these items are managed in a responsible manner, and in accordance with all environmental requirements.

Used motor oil is a hazardous waste. When disposed of improperly or illegally dumped, oil does not readily break down and has the potential to cause serious environmental impact. The U.S. EPA estimates that just one gallon of used oil has the potential to contaminate up to I million gallons of drinking water.

Used oil filters are recyclable because they are made of steel, which is North America’s number one recycled material. Some states have banned used oil filters from landfills, while others have placed restrictions on how they can be discarded. Most states follow federal requirements for used oil filter disposal.

The EPA requires that used oil filters be drained of all free-flowing oil before they are discarded or recycled. Currently, U.S. manufactured oil filters are exempt from hazardous waste regulation if the oil filter is:

  • Punctured through the dome end or anti-drain back valve and hot-drained.
  • Hot-drained and crushed.
  • Hot-drained and dismantled.
  • Hot-drained using an equivalent method to remove used oil.

Hot-draining, as defined by the EPA, is draining the oil filter at or near-engine operating temperature, but above 60ºF. In other words, remove the filter from the engine while it is still warm, then puncture or crush and drain the filter to remove any residual oil.

The EPA recommends hot-draining for a minimum of 12 hours, although specific state requirements may vary.


Simply put, used oil is exactly what its name implies – any petroleum-based or synthetic oil that has been used.

Lubricating oil does not wear out. However, it becomes “dirty” as it does its job. During normal use, impurities such as dirt, metal scrapings, water or chemicals can get mixed in with the motor oil, so that in time, it no longer performs well. Eventually, this used oil must be replaced with virgin or re-refined oil to do its job.

Used motor oil can be collected, recycled and used over and over again. An estimated 380 million gallons of used oil are recycled each year.

Recycled motor oil is used oil that undergone extensive re-refining to remove all contaminants to produce a good-as-new base oil. The resulting product – called re-refined oil – must meet the same stringent refining, compounding and performance standards as virgin motor oil.

Re-refining is an energy-efficient and environmentally beneficial method of managing used oil. Less energy is required to produce a gallon of re-refined base stock than a base stock from crude oil.

American Petroleum Institute (API)-licensed re-refined oils must pass the same cold-start, pumpability, rust-corrosion, engine-wear and high-temperature viscosity tests that virgin oils do. The API, the only national trade association that represents all aspects of America’s oil and natural gas industry, and American Automobile Manufacturers Association have developed the Engine Oil Licensing Certification System (EOLCS) to ensure all engine oils consistently meet performance specifications.


There are a number of reasons why a vehicle maintenance shop should consider implementing a used oil and used oil filter collection and recycling service.

For one thing, due to federal and state regulatory requirements, used oil and filters must be disposed of in an environmentally-safe manor, says Jim Scott, business development manager, Universal Environmental Services, which provides single-source environmental solutions for vehicle and trucking service centers, government, fast lubes, service stations and industrial facilities. A licensed recycler can help provide an outlet for this material, leaving proper documentation to verify the material is being handled in an approved manor.

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