Used Oil vs Waste Oil

The terms “waste oil” and “used oil” are often used interchangeably. Oil is one of the world’s most valuable and most coveted resources, but many people are uninformed about how to deal with and dispose of it. While both waste and used oil tend to be disposed of, they require different handling.
Used Oil
Oil, one of the most valuable commodities, can be reused and recycled if handled properly.

Used Oil

Used oil is refined oil that had been used for its intended purpose, but has been contaminated by dirt or chemicals while in normal use1. There are various types of it, including transmission fluid and motor oil. The oil found in cars is commonly changed every 30,000 to 50,000 miles because it begins to degrade in function when it is polluted with normal and expected impurities. Once the oil ceases to perform well, it needs to be replaced.
However, the polluted oil is often recyclable and reusable. There are services which vary by state that pick up and re-refine used oil. While it must be properly managed, used oil – when treated properly – can be a great resource.
There is unfortunately a negative aspect to used oil. If dealt with improperly, used oil can contaminate waterways and sources of drinking water. There is enough oil in one oil change to contaminate over a million gallons of fresh water2. Used oil can also potentially be hazardous waste when discarded, so it must be labeled and examined.
Used Oil Label
Labels like these allow businesses to properly deal with oil that can be recycled and reused.
Federal standards dictate where and how used oil can be stored, as well as the respective natures and regulations of its mandatory labels. Title 40: Article 279.22 of the Code of Federal Regulations3 states that all oil must be properly labeled and stored in regulation containers. Labels like the one above abide by these regulations and help manage all of the waste and potentially harmful chemicals in a work place. Further standards for used oil vary by state. Some states, like California4, employ extensive waste management companies5 to remove, recycle, and reuse the oil.
Oil generators must be labeled with the words “used oil.” Aboveground containers and tanks must always be marked with a similar label, while underground tanks have pipes that must be marked. This is to ensure caution is taken when dealing with the oil.

Waste Oil

Danger! Hazardous Waste Oil
Signs like these alert people that the oil contained is dangerous and toxic. Waste oil must be properly controlled and disposed of properly.
Waste oil is unused oil that has been in some way compromised and can no longer be used for its intended purpose6. This happens when an oil container is not properly sealed or handled. Waste oil can be classified as a hazardous material and must be labeled and dealt with as such. Waste oil cannot be reused; often, it is diluted with water or some other chemical that makes it impure. In the past, waste oil was disposed in landfills, but this practice was discontinued when the negative effects on the environment became apparent. Now, the disposal of waste oil is regulated and handled by state governments.

In an environmentally conscious world, it is important to be both informed and intelligent about the choices we make. While one of the easiest environment-friendly steps is recycling, it is still important to know what can and cannot be recycled. Oil is both an expensive resource and a dangerous one. While the amount of useable oil on the planet dwindles, it is important to treat both the remaining oil and the Earth with the utmost care.
1 Ruhlin, Doug. Resource Management Associates, "Waste Oil and Used Oil: What's the difference?." Last modified May 12, 2011.Accessed June 28, 2012.
2 United States Environmental Protection Agency, "Used Oil Management Program." Last modified September 28, 2011.Accessed June 28, 2012.
3 National Archives and Records Administration, "Electronic Code of Federal Regulations." Last modified June 26, 2012.Accessed June 28, 2012. .
4 Californians Against Waste, "Used Motor Oil Recycling." Last modified 2012.Accessed June 28, 2012.
5 Asbury Environmental Services, "Oil Collection Services." Last modified 2003.Accessed June 28, 2012.
6 Miller, Helen. OhioEPA, "Ohio Hazardous Waste Notifier." Last modified September 2004.Accessed June 28, 2012.