Recycling Used Motor Oil

A task that the Adopt-A-Stream Mississippi program is strongly encouraging all volunteers to begin recycling the used motor oil from their cars, boats, and lawn mowers, etc. This mission is very important since an estimated 40 percent of the pollution in America’s waterways is from used motor oil! Volunteers who would like to go a step further can encourage oil recycling in their neighborhood or town.

Americans who change their motor oil throw away 180 million gallons of recoverable (recyclable) motor oil every year, while only 20 million gallons are recycled. Over 60 percent of the used oil disposed of by “do-it-yourself” auto mechanics is disposed of improperly. This translates into 11 million gallons every two and a half weeks, or approximately the amount of oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez supertanker in Alaska! In addition, businesses and industries improperly dump 260 million gallons of used oil each year. That’s 24 times the amount of oil spilled by the Valdez and enough to contaminate over 150 trillion gallons of water!

Only 10 percent of used oil is properly collected and sent off for recycling. The remaining and improperly disposed of motor oil can be very hazardous to the environment. One gallon of used motor oil can contaminate 1 million gallons of fresh water and can make 65,000 gallons toxic! Used motor oil often contains toxic metals such as lead, cadmium, arsenic, and chromium, which can seep into water tables if dumped on the ground. Oil films on water surface can block sunlight and impair plant photosynthesis, which produces the oxygen necessary for aquatic life.

Used Oil DO’S and DON’TS:
  • DO put your used motor oil in a clean plastic container. Milk jugs, empty oil containers, or similar containers work best. Put the cap on firmly to prevent leaking or spilling. The container should not have been used for paint, cleaning solvents, antifreeze, or anything besides motor oil. Just a small amount of one of these substances can contaminate a 200-gallon oil collection tank.
  • DO punch an air hole in the top of the filter and allow the oil to drain from the filter. Allow the oil to drain for 6 to 8 hours or longer, prior to discarding your used oil filter. Then turn the filter upside down and allow the remaining oil to drain through the air hole for several hours. Combine this oil with the rest of your used motor oil for recycling. When you take your used motor oil to be recycled, ask if they will take your used oil filter, which is also recyclable.
  • DO take your used motor oil to a used oil collection site. Such sites are likely to be at service stations, automotive parts, quick oil change businesses, or motor oil retailers. See MDEQ recycling website for a location near you:
  • DO encourage your neighbors, friends, and family to recycle their used oil. Get your local newspaper to print a list of area businesses that will accept used motor oil for recycling.
  • DON’T pour used oil down a drain. If the drain leads to a wastewater treatment plant, the oil could reduce plant efficiency, causing more contaminants to flow out of the plant’s discharge pipes and into a nearby lake or stream. The effect is similar when oil is poured down a drain that leads to a septic system.
  • DON’T pour used oil into a storm sewer. Storm sewers lead directly to lakes, streams, and wetlands where oil spoils habitat for fish and wildlife, and interferes with swimming, boating, and other recreation.
  • DON’T toss used oil on the driveway, street, or ground. Such practices lead to soil pollution and, through percolation and runoff can contaminate lakes, streams, wetlands, and groundwater.
  • DON’T spread oil to suppress dust or kill weeds. These practices harm land and water resources.
  • DON’T dispose of oil in lakes, streams, or wetlands. It is illegal and harmful to fish, wildlife, and outdoor recreation.
  • DON’T burn oil outdoors. Burning oil in a backyard barrel can result in toxic smoke that contaminates the air you and others breath
For additional information on the proper disposal of used motor oil and filters and a list of recycling centers near you, contact the MS DEQ POLLUTION PREVENTION PROGRAM at (601) 961-5171. Or visit their