Used oil: Dangerous water contaminant that needs to be kept out of the environment

2019-03-29 09:19
A generator pours usedoil into a safe storage container for collection

A generator pours usedoil into a safe storage container for collection

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Used motor lubricating oil is one of the hazardous substances that can contaminate our rivers and dams, and the ROSE Foundation (Recycling Oil Saves The Environment) is calling on South Africans to Store and recycle used oil responsibly.

Water contamination threatens already dwindling water resources.

The water infrastructure in many South African towns and cities is already challenged, and pollution of rivers is a massive problem as sewage and other contaminants seep into ground and litter is washed into rivers from surrounding areas.

Of the many sources of contamination that could end up making their way into our dwindling water resources, one is used lubricant oil, a common by-product of mechanised processes in all industry sectors.  Used oil contains harmful compounds and carcinogens that can easily contaminate the environment, especially if thrown down drains, into landfills or onto the ground where it leaches into the water table.  

One litre of used oil can contaminate a million litres of water.

Because of its harmful properties, used oil is classified as a hazardous waste and is strictly governed by environmental laws - with its storage and disposal needing to meet the requirements of the Waste Act.

The ROSE Foundation has been championing the responsible collection and removal of used oil for proper recycling since 1994.  Bubele Nyiba, the CEO of ROSE explains that due to a lack of education many South Africans who generate used oil may dispose of it improperly and illegally – pouring it down drains, throwing it out onto the ground, or even re-using it as a dust suppressant, burner fuel, or wood preservative.

“It is estimated that South Africa generates an average of 120 million litres of used lubricant oil in a year.   This is a large amount of used oil that, if not collected and recycled responsibly, could make its way into our environment.”The ROSE Foundation has been driving recycling on behalf of the lubricants industry in an effort to keep used oil out of the environment. Nyiba says they have been successful but more needs to be done: “We have recycled 1,5 billion litres of used oil over the last 25 years – that’s a massive amount of used oil that could have ended up in our ground water.”

ROSE Foundation

The ROSE Foundation offers some practical tips on what to do with used oil:

  • Drain oil into a clean container with a tight fitting lid, such as a reusable combination drain pan/storage container.  Use a specially designed plastic ROSE Sumpy to collect and store used oil in.    
  • Empty oil containers and drums make effective makeshift storage vessels for used oil, however, DO NOT use a container that previously held chemicals, such as cleaners, solvents, fuels, paint or bleach.
  • Always clearly label the container “Used Motor Oil.” 
  • The ROSE Foundation can subsidize cubic-shaped 1000 litre mini tank which make maximum use of available space, hold more oil and to make things even easier, the collections require no handling of the containers. Sealed couplings are used to pump the contents straight into a tanker truck so there's no spillage or leakage.
  • Keep these containers in a place that can be accessed by a ROSE registered used oil collector and keep the surrounding area clear and clean.  Ideally store them under cover and away from heat or sources of ignition.
  • Keep oil change pans free of water and ensure your storage containers are tightly sealed and covered to protect them from rain water. Oil that is contaminated with water is far more difficult to recycle.
  • Ensure that you do not mix used oil with other fluids such as antifreeze, transmission fluid, petrol, diesel etc.  Mixing them may make them non-recyclable as well as very hazardous and flammable.
  • Build a bund wall around bulk used oil storage tanks so that in the event of a spill or leak, the used oil will be contained.  In the event of an oil spill, contact your used oil collector.
ROSE Foundation

Once your container is full you can drop it off at your nearest approved municipal garden refuse site – a list of which is available from the ROSE Foundation.  Otherwise, most reputable service centres have used oil storage facilities and will take your oil, as they are paid according to volume by the collectors who take it away for processing.

For those South Africans who may not directly generate used oil, the ROSE Foundation asks that you question the service station where you have your car serviced to find out what they do with their used oil.  “Ensure you use a reputable service centre that properly stores their used oil for removal by a registered collector.”

Nyiba says that the safe disposal of hazardous waste has become a critical issue in South Africa in order to protect our environment.  “The legislation in place in South Africa means that responsible waste management is no longer a nice thing to do but a necessary thing to do.”

For more information and to find out about an accredited collector or drop-off point, contact the ROSE Foundation on (021) 448 7492 or visit 

This post and content is sponsored, written and provided by the ROSE Foundation.


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