How does oil recycling work?

Do you know how to recycle your used oil?
Do you know how to recycle your used oil?

Whether you're debating the need for oil independence or discussing the environmental impacts of oil drilling, there's no doubt about it: Oil is a hot topic of conversation. With so much of the conversation devoted to crude oil, the fate of more ordinary engine oils and petroleum-based lubricants is often overlooked. Nevertheless, by driving cars, mowing lawns, lubricating squeaky wheels and using countless other tools and gadgets, people generate thousands of gallons of waste oil each day. What happens to run-of-the-mill oil once it's been used and discarded?

Waste oil comes from an array of different sources, including do-it-yourselfers, auto shops, manufacturing companies, electric generating stations, HVAC companies and mining/smelter companies. Some of this oil (including a portion of the oil skimmed from oceans following industry accidents) is simply burned off. Waste oil that's too contaminated to meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines for recycling is disposed of as a hazardous material. Enough oil gets poured down sewers and drainage grates each year that the EPA has launched a campaign called "You Dump It, You Drink It" to educate home mechanics and small auto repair business owners about the proper way to dispose of oil.

And if it's been disposed of properly, waste oil can be collected and recycled, prolonging its usefulness. According to the U.S. EPA, somewhere between 380 and 800 million gallons of waste oil are collected by recyclers for reuse. Several types of oil and other petroleum-based products can be recycled or re-refined, including motor oils, metalworking fluids, emulsions, transmission fluids, brake fluids, coolants, heating media, refrigeration oils, electrical oils, buoyants and hydraulic fluids. Whether you're a home auto mechanic, a small business owner or a big wig in a company that uses a lot of oil, there are recycling options available to you. They'll green up your act, and they'll reward you with a little green, too.

So, what's involved in the process of recycling oil, and where can you find a place to recycle your used crude? We'll explore those topics next.