The Dangers of Motor Oil

By Vincent Lui on

Although ideally we should always take transit and use environmentally friendly modes of transportation whenever possible, cars are a necessity for many people. While most understand the destructive nature of burning fossil fuels and creating exhaust gasses, though, few are aware of the impact their car's motor oil has on the environment. An average car will need an oil change every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, which adds up to a lot of used oil being created when you consider how many cars are on the road. But whether you are taking your vehicle to a shop to have the oil changed or doing it yourself, there are ways to reduce the damage motor oil has on the planet.





Motor oil is a necessary component to your vehicle's engine. As a lubricant, it reduces friction on the moving parts, which in turn reduces heat and wear, prolonging the life of the vehicle. There are two main types of motor oil readily available - mineral oil and synthetic oil. Mineral oil, like gasoline, is created from refining crude oil taken from the earth. Synthetic oil, on the other hand, is made from lab-created chemicals. Synthetic oil are believed by many people to be slightly better for the environment than conventional mineral oil as it is engineered for better performance and in theory, will last longer. Most people, though, will change the oil at the set intervals regardless of the type of oil they use. In addition, most "synthetic" motor oils in the US are actually blends of synthetic and mineral bases so there really is minimal difference between the two types of oil in terms of which one being more eco-friendly. However, how you dispose of the used motor oil can impact the environment greatly.





Many people opt to change their own oil at home. It's a simple process on most cars and the savings can add up over time. What few people overlook, though, is how to dispose of the used oil properly. A gallon of used oil has can potentially contaminate a million gallons of freshwater. The US EPA states that over 40 percent of the country's oil pollution come from the improper disposal of used motor oil by people who do changes at home. Besides being non-biodegradable, used motor oil also picks up contaminants from the engine and has been shown to be a carcinogen. As such, there are some guidelines that everyone should follow:


NEVER dispose of used motor oil:

- into storm/sewer grates

- down the drain

- in the trash - not even if it's sealed in a container as it will eventually leak out

- into the ground


Improper disposal can contaminate water supplies and cause widespread damage to the environment. To dispose of used motor oil correctly, transfer it to a sealable container (the empty cartons of from the new oil works well) and contact your neighborhood garage, gas station, or oil change station to see if they will take used oil. Most are happy to accept it for recycling. In addition, Earth911.com contains a database of places that will recycle your motor oil. All you have to do is enter your zipcode.



When you change your oil, you will also need to properly dispose of the oil filter. Many people don't realize that the oil filter that is replaced contains a good deal of residual oil inside and needs to be drained before it is disposed of. The easiest way is to punch an air hole at the top of the filter and let the oil drain out for 12-24 hours. Most places that accept used oil will also take the filter.





In addition to properly disposing of your used motor oil, there are a number of ways you can further minimize the impact of motor oil consumption, even if you get your oil changed at a station or a garage:


Reusable Oil Filters


Instead of using disposable oil filters that need to be replaced at every oil change, why not invest in a reusable filter? Running from $50 to $150, they will pay off in the long run, saving you money while keeping disposable filters out of landfills. More information on these can be found in this article: http://ecohomeresource.com/2010/01/how-green-is-your-oil.html


Re-Refined Oil


Used oil collected at service stations is recycled into many things, including fuel and re-refined motor oil. Motor oil does not break down; it only gets dirty (that's why they it's so bad for the environment). You need to change the oil in your car regularly because it loses efficiency due to picking up contaminants from the engine. Oil recycling centers filter the used oil and reuse it, turning a gallon of used motor oil into 2.5 quarts of usable motor oil. It's perfectly normal oil and performance-wise, there's no difference between re-refined oil and virgin oil. By choosing to use re-refined oil, you can help reduce the consumption of non-renewable resources in addition to keeping the used oil out of the ground.



Biodegradable Motor Oil


For those that want to take an extra step in protecting then environment, a company called Green Earth Technologies has created a biodegradable type of motor oil called G-Oil. Using cow fat waste, a by-product of the meat industry, as a base, G-Oil is petroleum free and is said to biodegrade over 90% in 9 days. The company also states that it's so eco-friendly you can dispose of the oil at home if necessary, but as with regular motor oil, it's always best to bring used oil to a recycling center. Since motor oil is one of the worst pollutants in our waterways, GET's marine line of G-Oil is a great choice for those that worry about spilling oil into the water during maintenance work on their boats as the company claims it will not impact the environment at all. While not available everywhere, you can find G-Oil in some of the bigger hardware stores and Home Depot even sells it online for $5.99/quart.


Even though we don't often think about it, motor oil is a big part of the petroleum industry. Over 200 million gallons of used motor oil is produced each year in the US and over have of it is dumped into the environment by people who change their oil at home. By properly disposing of your motor oil, not only will it only keep hazardous chemicals out of waterways and landfills, but it will also reduce our carbon footprint created from the manufacture of new oil.

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