How does oil recycling work?

Types of Oil Recycling

When a little kid plays in the mud, his clothes become soiled with sediment, pesticides, fertilizers and other "dirty" stuff. In the same way, routine use causes oil to be contaminated with dirt, water, chemicals, metal shavings and various other impurities. Recycling oil is akin to doing the laundry or taking a bath. Through a variety of processes, impurities are removed from used oil so that it can be repurposed again and again.

The term "oil recycling" is a broad label that can refer to many different processes for re-purposing used oil:

  • Reconditioning on-site - This process uses a filtering system to remove impurities at the site where the oil is being used, prolonging the life of the oil. This method is useful for factories or other large operations that generate a lot of waste oil.
  • Inserting into a petroleum refinery - Used oil can be fed into the front end of a petroleum refining process to produce gasoline.
  • Processing and burning for energy recovery - In this process, the oil is filtered to remove water and contaminants and then burned to make heat or to power industrial operations. This is probably the least preferred method of recycling oil. Once the oil is burned, there's no way to recycle it again.
  • Re-refining into base stock for new lubricating oil - Re-refined oil is dewatered, distilled and hydro-treated to remove contaminants. The resulting product is virtually identical to virgin oil stock and must meet the same American Petroleum Institute (API) standards. Re-refining prolongs the life of the oil resource indefinitely, making this method the gold standard for oil recycling.

What does this mean for you? In a nutshell, recycled oil is just as good for your car as virgin oil, and this type of oil has undeniable environmental and economic benefits. We discuss those benefits in the next section.