RCR strives to implement an organized collection system and some take-up facilities for waste oils. In the past, waste oil was mainly regenerated. Today, waste oil is mainly co-incinerated, or used as an additional fuel. One problem still remains: only a small proportion of the waste oil generated annually is currently collected – only 14% of the lubricating oils sold annually are collected as waste oils.
The Group deploys technology to ensure that all waste and used oils are safely collected (implementing a free waste oil container for every oil generator – restaurant, café, lube shop, garage and the like) and a collection service that will bring all oil back to an RCR STAG plant for safe processing and reuse.
Used motor oils can be re-refined to make new lube oils. Re-refining is an efficient and sophisticated process which removes contaminants and impurities producing premium grade base oils. One gallon of used motor oil will yield about 0.7 gallons of re-refined oil. Lubricating oils can be re-used indefinitely in an endless cycle from refinery to engine to refinery again.
Motor oils never wear out; it only gets dirty, and can be re-refined into new lubricating oil in an endless loop.
The Chicken and the Egg
A number of years ago oil companies using re-refined oil in their blends were required to print this fact in big red letters on their containers. Many consumers interpreted this labelling as a visual stop sign to the purchase of those oils. They did not want to buy “dirty” used oil. Oil companies are no longer required to report to the consumer the use of re-refined base oils and, in fact, some companies currently do put re-refined oils into their products without any indication on the label.
Ideally, all used motor oil should be re-refined and put back into the system by all oil companies without fanfare. Two barriers to this are the cost of certification for new blends of oils and public perceptions about the quality of re-refined oils. Oil companies cannot easily add re-refined oil to their blends because it costs a large amount of money to get an API test and certification (quarter of a million for consumer blends, half a million for heavy duty blends.) Many oil companies are reluctant to
use and promote re-refined oils because the general public has misconceptions about the quality of these products. Once the public understands that API certified re-refined oils meet the same high quality standards as oils from crude, they will be more receptive to re-refined oils, and oil companies will be more likely to market re-refined products.
A look at the Oil Re-refining Efficiencies
The re-refining of used motor oil is a very efficient process. 1.41 gallons of wet used motor oil will yield 1 gallon of re-refined motor oil.
Comparing this to crude oil, it takes 84 gallons of crude to yield 1 gallon of motor oil.
But you can not simply compare those ratios and conclude that refining from crude is immensely inefficient. Crude oil refining yields large amounts of fuels. Below is a comparison of refining from used motor oil and refining from crude.
Re-refining one unit of used motor oil will yield:
- 71% lube oil
- 5% fuels
- 14% asphalt
- 10% water
Refining one unit of crude oil will yield:
- 84% fuels (46% gasoline, 38% other fuels)
- 9% gases
- 4% coke
- 3% asphalt and road oil
- 3% petrochemical feed-stocks
- 1% lubricating oil
(Exact percentages can vary.)
The total volume of products made is greater than 100% due to “processing gain”
Why use Re-refined Oil?
Lubricating oil is a premium substance which can be re-refined and reused time and again. Re-refined oils carrying the API logo meet the same high quality standards as lube oils made from crude. In addition, re-refined oils are comparable in price to virgin oils.
When you buy re-refined motor oil you will be helping to create a market for the product and will be driving the recycling process. Most of the used motor oil taken to motor oil collection centres is not truly recycled. Out of all the used motor oil collec ted 55 % is burned as a cheap source of fuel, releasing toxins into the atmosphere. 35% is either dumped, sent to landfills, incinerated, used to oil roads or used in industrial processes. 10% is re-refined (recycled) to make new high quality motor oils.
Some Useful Statistics for the USA
- 2.7 billion gallons (b.g.) of oil are sold annually in the United States
- 50% of this 2.7 b.g. is consumed (i.e. burned or leaked from the engine)
- The other 50%, or about 1.1 b.g., becomes used oil
- 31% of this used oil, or about 500 million gallons, never reaches a recycling program
- DIYers drain about 180 million gallons of used oil from their cars, but less than 20 million gallons of this DIY-generated used oil is recycled.
- over 450 million oil filters are purchased annually in the U.S.
- about 15 million oil filters were recycled
- recycling 1 ton of drained oil filters produces 770 kilograms of steel and recovers about 250 litres of used oil
- in the U. S., 42-60 % of drivers are do-it-yourself oil changers.
- Each year, about 75% of the 14 billion gallons of recoverable used motor oil generated by do-it-yourselfers (DIYs) is disposed of improperly
- Americans throw away enough used motor oil every year to fill 120 supertankers
- One gallon of used oil provides the same 2.5 quarts of high quality lubricating oil as 42 gallons of crude oil.
Common Disposal Methods For Used Oil Among DIYers
- 40 % pour it on the ground
- 21 % dump it into their trash
- 21 % use it for machinery or other miscellaneous activities
- 14 % take it to recycling centers
- 4 % use it as fuel for burning
Environmental and Health Issues
Compared to crude oil refining to produce virgin lubricating oil, producing lubricating oil from used motor oil requires less energy, and conserves valuable crude oil, a non-renewable resource. Many California state and local agencies, the Federal government, and private companies already use re-refined oil in their vehicle fleets.
Re-refined motor oil conserves the crude oil supply by re-using the motor oil rather than having to extract additional crude oil from diminishing domestic supplies or importing additional crude oil from foreign countries. For every 1.4 gallons of used oil recycled 1 gallon of re-refined motor oil can be produced. Buying re-refined motor oil reduces dependence on foreign oil.
Conserving non-renewable oil supplies is not the only benefit. By buying re-refined motor oil, less used motor oil will be used as fuel, resulting in cleaner air (currently, more than half of all used motor oil is recycled into fuel oil cutter stock, where it is blended with off-specification or heavy crude based materials and burned as fuel, resulting in air pollution from phosphates, sulphur, and heavy metals).
Oil, in any form, is potentially harmful to the environment. Post-studies of oil spills indicate that it takes up to twenty years for an aquatic environment to return to a healthy condition. Once it has been used by industry or the DIYer, it has even more potential for environmental damage.
In an aquatic community, oil residue tends to settle on the bottom, coating the substrate and whatever organisms live there. When poured on the ground, oil can rapidly migrate through the soil. In both instances bacteria, plants, invertebrates and vertebrates experience physiological stress.
To put the environmental impact of misplaced oil into perspective, consider the following:
- One pint of oil can produce an oil slick that will cover one acre (approximately the area of a football field)
- One part of oil per million parts of water (about equivalent to one drop of oil in a filled bathtub can produce tastes and odors noticeable to humans
- 35 part per million (ppm) can cause a visible oil slick on water and can damage aquatic organisms
- 50 ppm can foul water treatment plants and cause equipment damage
- Oil in landfills can leach into ground water, carrying contaminants and affecting the odor and taste of the water