Automotive oil is one of the major pollutants released into the environment every year. Used engine oil contains various heavy metals, chemicals and other contaminants that are highly toxic if released untreated into the environment. However, automotive oil can be recycled and processed to recover valuable resources and reduce pollution. This article explores the importance of automotive oil recycling and how it helps promote environmental sustainability.
Growing Volumes of Used Oil
As the global vehicle population continues to rise every year, the volumes of used automotive oil generated are also increasing at an alarming rate. It is estimated that over 1 billion gallons of used motor oil is discarded annually just in the United States alone. With millions of vehicles worldwide needing oil changes regularly, the total global volumes of used oil discarded could run into billions of gallons. If not handled properly, this used oil poses a serious threat to soil and water pollution. Automotive oil contains various contaminants such as lead, cadmium, zinc, arsenic and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which can cause long term damage to the environment. Recycling provides an effective solution to manage these growing volumes of used oil in an environmentally responsible manner.
The recycling process extracts usable components from used oil and treats any waste materials. Used motor oil collected from garages, lube centers and homeowners is transported to an oil recycling facility for processing. At the facility, the oil first undergoes preliminary filtration to remove sludge and contaminants. It is then refined using processes such as distillation, acid/clay treatment, solvent extraction etc. This separates the oil into various product components like base oils, gas oil and pyrolysis oil. The purified base oil recovered can be re-refined to meet the same stringent quality standards as new oil. Any residual toxic sludge leftover from processing is treated as hazardous waste and disposed as per regulatory standards. This ensures proper treatment and safe disposal of all waste streams from recycling.
Recycling used automotive oil is critical to prevent pollution from this toxic waste stream. An estimated 75% of the contaminants in used oil come from leaks, spills and litters during collection and transportation to disposal sites such as landfills or dump sites if not recycled properly. These end up polluting soil and water bodies if not contained. Recycling helps collect over 98% of used oil generated annually which would otherwise drain into the environment causing irreversible damage. The processing facilities have stringent containment measures to collect any leaks and spills from arriving shipments and trace their source to stop future occurrences. Overall, recycling plays a vital role in containing environmental pollution from irresponsibly dumped used motor oil.
Beyond pollution control, Automotive oil recycling provides valuable resource conservation benefits. For instance, the base oil recovered through recycling can entirely substitute the use of crude oil as feedstock for new lubricant production. This reduces dependence on crude oil, a finite fossil fuel resource. In fact, recycling just one quart of used motor oil can produce as much as two quarts of new lubricating oil. Also, other product components recovered such as gas oil and pyrolysis oil can be further processed as fuel. Therefore, automotive oil recycling is helping extend crude oil reserves to meet growing global energy needs in a more sustainable way.
Recycling the used oil not only protects the environment but also provides economic benefits. The lubricants manufacturing industry in many countries relies on recycled oil as a major feedstock. This has helped boost their production volumes and created many jobs at recycling facilities, re-refineries and lubricant plants. It is estimated that recovered oil from recycling supports over 27,000 jobs in the US alone in the recycling sector. Revenue from recovered products also funds collection, transportation and processing costs thereby strengthening the financial viability of reuse projects. With enhanced tax revenues, the recycling industry is generating significant economic impact for communities where they operate.
While automotive oil recycling helps address critical pollution and resource issues, it still faces some ongoing challenges. Collection infrastructure needs to expand further in rural and remote areas with lower vehicle densities to achieve higher retrieval rates. Public awareness is another key factor – many people still dispose automotive waste oil improperly due to lack of knowledge on proper recycling procedures. Regulatory measures and incentive programs are instrumental to promote collection programs and compliance among all stakeholders. Technological innovations are also crucial to further enhance recycling yields, lower costs and manage complex waste streams efficiently. Concerted efforts are required across government, industry and communities to continually advance automotive oil recycling practices.
Automotive Oil Recycling plays a pivotal role in sustainability efforts globally. Not only does it help recover precious resources to fuel the circular economy, but also remediate environmental pollution concerns from irresponsible oil waste disposal. With rapid growth in the automotive sector, improving recycling rates is imperative to long term management of this used lubricant waste stream. Promoting awareness, bolstering infrastructure, incentivizing stakeholders and innovating processes can further strengthen recycling programs. A collaborative approach between policymakers, businesses and public will be crucial to unlock the full benefits of automotive oil recycling for people and the planet.
1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it