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Hazardous Waste

Managing Used Oil: Answers to Frequent Questions for Businesses

A wide variety of businesses such as service stations, fleet maintenance facilities, and "quick lube" shops generate and handle used oil. EPA's used oil management standards--a set of "good housekeeping" requirements for used oil handlers—are detailed in Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) part 279. This Web page highlights essential information that businesses can use to manage their used oil while protecting human health and the environment.

Your state regulations governing the management of used oil might be stricter than EPA's. Contact your state or local environmental agency to determine your best course of action.

On this page:

General Questions


  • What is Used Oil?

    EPA defines used oil as any oil that has been refined from crude oil or any synthetic oil that has been used and as a result of such use is contaminated by physical or chemical impurities. Simply put, used oil is exactly what its name implies—any petroleum-based or synthetic oil that has been used.

    During normal use, impurities such as dirt, metal scrapings, water, or chemicals can get mixed in with the oil, so that in time the oil no longer performs well. Eventually, this used oil must be replaced with virgin or re-refined oil to do the job at hand. EPA's used oil management standards include a three-pronged approach to determine if a substance meets the definition of used oil. To meet EPA's definition of used oil, a substance must meet each of the following three criteria:

    • Origin - Used oil must have been refined from crude oil or made from synthetic materials.
    • Use - Oils that are used as lubricants, hydraulic fluids, heat transfer fluids, buoyants, and for other similar purposes are considered used oil. Unused oils such as bottom clean-out waste from virgin fuel oil storage tanks or virgin fuel oil recovered from a spill, do not meet EPA's definition of used oil because these oils have never been "used." EPA's definition also excludes products used as cleaning agents or used solely for their solvent properties, as well as certain petroleum-derived products like antifreeze and kerosene.
    • Contaminants - In other words, to meet EPA's definition, used oil must become contaminated as a result of being used. This aspect of EPA's definition includes residues and contaminants generated from handling, storing, and processing used oil. Physical contaminants could include metal shavings, sawdust, or dirt. Chemical contaminants could include solvents, halogens, or saltwater.

    For more information on specific oils that can fall under RCRA’s definition of used oil, view our “What is Used Oil?” reference table.

  • How is Used Oil Recycled?

    Once oil has been used, it can be collected, recycled, and used over and over again. An estimated 380 million gallons of used oil are recycled each year. Recycled used oil can sometimes be used again for the same job or can take on a completely different task. For example, used motor oil can be re-refined and sold at the store as motor oil or processed for furnace fuel oil. Aluminum rolling oils also can be filtered on site and used over again.

    Used oil can be:

    • Reconditioned on site—Impurities are removed from the used oil, which is then reused. While this form of recycling might not restore the oil to its original condition, it does prolong its life.
    • Inserted into a petroleum refinery—Used Oil is introduced as a feedstock into refinery production processes.
    • Re-refined, which involves treating used oil to remove impurities so that it can be used as a base stock for new lubricating oil. Re-refining prolongs the life of the oil resource indefinitely. This form of recycling is the preferred option because it closes the recycling loop by reusing the oil to make the same product that it was when it started out, and therefore uses less energy and less virgin oil.
    • Processed and burned for energy recovery, which involves removing water and particulates so that used oil can be burned as fuel to generate heat or to power industrial operations. This form of recycling is not as preferable as methods that reuse the material because it only enables the oil to be reused once. Nonetheless, valuable energy is provided (about the same as provided by normal heating oil).
  • What Businesses Handle Used Oil?

    Many types of businesses that handle used oil, including:

    • Generators are businesses that handle used oil through commercial or industrial operations or from the maintenance of vehicles and equipment. Generators are the largest segment of the used oil industry. Examples of common generators are car repair shops, service stations, quick lube shops, government motor pools, grocery stores, metal working industries, and boat marinas. Farmers who produce less than an average of 25 gallons of used oil per month are excluded from generator status. Individuals who generate used oil through the maintenance of their personal vehicles and equipment are not subject to regulation under the used oil management standards.
    • Collection centers and aggregation points are facilities that accept small amounts of used oil and store it until enough is collected to ship it elsewhere for recycling. Collection centers typically accept used oil from multiple sources that include both businesses and individuals. Aggregation points collect oil only from places run by the same owner or operator and from individuals.
    • Transporters are companies that pick up used oil from all sources and deliver it to re-refiners, processors, or burners. Transfer facilities include any structure or area where used oil is held for longer than 24 hours, but not longer than 35 days. Examples of transfer facilities are loading docks and parking areas.
    • Re-refiners and processors are facilities that blend or remove impurities from used oil so that it can be burned for energy recovery or reused. Included in this category are re-refiners who process used oil so that it can be reused in a new product such as a lubricant and recycled again and again. EPA's management standards primarily focus on this group of used oil handlers.
    • Burners burn used oil for energy recovery in boilers, industrial furnaces, or in hazardous waste incinerators.
    • Marketers are handlers who either (a) direct shipments of used oil to be burned as fuel in regulated devices or, (b) claim that certain EPA specifications are met for used oil to be burned for energy recovery in devices that are not regulated. They also sometimes help move shipments of used oil to burners. By definition, marketers must also fall into at least one of the above categories.
  • How Can My Service Station Avoid Costly Cleanups?

    When service station dealers meet the following conditions, they are relieved from responsibility for costly cleanups and liabilities associated with off-site handling of used oil. To meet these conditions, service stations must:

    1. Comply with the management standards described above;
    2. Do not mix used oil with any hazardous substance; and
    3. Accept used oil from Do-it-yourselfers (DIYs) and send it for recycling.
  • What are the recommended clean-up practices for used-oil handlers who have a spill on-site?

    EPA recommends, but does not require, the following cleanup practices for used oil handlers:

    1. maximize the recovery of used oil;
    2. minimize the generation of used oil sorbent waste by choosing reusable sorbent materials;
    3. use the spent sorbent materials to produce recycled sorbent materials; and
    4. buy sorbent materials with recycled content.


    Extraction devices (e.g., centrifuges, wringers, and compactors) can be used to recover used oil from reusable sorbent materials. Sorbent pads can be reused between two and eight times depending on the viscosity of the used oil. These technologies, while not required, can be used to reduce the number of sorbent pads ultimately sent for remanufacture, energy recovery, or disposal. The potential to reduce waste and save money (i.e., lower disposal costs for spent pads and lower per use cost of sorbent pads) by reusing and recycling sorbent pads can be substantial.

    Managing Cleanup Materials

    If you have used oil on rags or other sorbent materials from cleaning up a leak or spill, you should remove as much of the free-flowing oil as possible and manage the oil as you would have before it spilled. Once the free-flowing used oil has been removed from these materials, they are not considered used oil and may be managed as solid waste as long as they do not exhibit a hazardous waste characteristic. Note, however, that materials from which used oil has been removed continue to be regulated as used oil if they are to be burned for energy recovery (regardless of the degree of removal).

  • What Can My Business Do to Conserve Oil?
    • Minimize the amount of used oil you produce. The less used oil that is produced in the first place, the less that ultimately has to be handled. Businesses can filter, separate, and recondition used oil to prolong its usable life.
    • Purchase re-refined used oil products instead of virgin oil products. Re-refined oil works just as well as virgin oil. Products that display the American Petroleum Institute (API) "starburst" meet the same high-quality specifications as virgin oil.
    • Practice safe management of used oil. Don't mix used oil with anything. Always store used oil in leak-proof containers that are in secure areas safely away from workers and the environment. Send used oil to a re-refiner whenever possible.

Regulatory Questions


  • What Regulations Should My Business Follow?

    If your business handles used oil, there are certain good housekeeping practices that you must follow. EPA developed required practices, called "management standards," for businesses that handle used oil. The management standards are common sense, good business practices designed to ensure the safe handling of used oil, maximize recycling, and minimize disposal. Although EPA and the states may have specific requirements for different used oil handlers, the following requirements are common to all types of handlers. These requirements relate to storage, recordkeeping and to cleaning up leaks and spills, as follows.

    Requirements for Storing Used Oil:

    • Label all containers and tanks as Used Oil.
    • Keep containers and tanks in good condition. Don't allow tanks to rust, leak, or deteriorate. Fix structural defects immediately.
    • Never store used oil in anything other than tanks and storage containers. Used oil may also be stored in units that are permitted to store regulated hazardous waste. Tanks and containers storing used oil do not need to be RCRA permitted, however, as long as they are labeled and in good condition. Storage of used oil in lagoons, pits, or surface impoundments that are not permitted under RCRA is prohibited.

    Requirements for Oil Leaks and Spills:

    • Take steps to prevent leaks and spills. Keep machinery, equipment containers, and tanks in good working condition and be careful when transferring used oil. Have sorbent materials available on site.
    • If a spill or leak occurs, stop the oil from flowing at the source. If a leak from a container or tank can't be stopped, put the oil in another holding container or tank.
    • Contain spilled oil. For example, containment can be accomplished by erecting sorbent berms or by spreading a sorbent over the oil.
    • Clean up the oil and recycle the used oil as you would have before it was spilled. If recycling is not possible, you first must make sure the used oil is not a hazardous waste and dispose of it appropriately. All used cleanup materials, from rags to sorbent booms, that contain free-flowing used oil also must be handled according to the used oil management standards. Remember, all leaked and spilled oil collected during cleanup must be handled as used oil. If you are a used oil handler, you should become familiar with these cleanup methods. They may also be part of a spill response action plan.
    • Remove, repair, or replace the defective tank or container immediately.
    • Handlers may be subject to Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasures (SPCC) requirements (40 CFR part 112).

    Standards for Record Keeping:

    EPA uses 12-digit identification (ID) numbers to track used oil. Transporters that haul used oil must have a valid EPA ID number, and generators, collection centers, and aggregation points must use transporters with EPA ID numbers for shipping used oil off site. If you need an ID number, contact your EPA regional office or your state director. Generators, collection centers, aggregation points, and any handler that transports used oil in shipments of less than 55 gallons do not need an ID number, but may need a state or local permit.

    Used oil transporters, processors, burners, and marketers also must record each acceptance and delivery of used oil shipments. Records can take the form of a log, invoice, or other shipping document and must be maintained for three years. Re-refiners, processors, transfer facilities, and burners must have secondary containment systems (e.g., oil-impervious dike, berm, or retaining wall and a floor) so that oil cannot reach the environment in the event of a leak or spill. EPA also encourages generators to use a secondary containment system to prevent used oil from contaminating the environment.

    Burners of used oil that meet a certain set of quality standards, “the used oil specifications,” are not regulated under the used oil management standards, as long as the used oil is burned in appropriate boilers, furnaces, or incinerators.

    Standards for Mixing Used Oil and Hazardous Waste:

    In addition to EPA's used oil management standards, your business may be required to comply with federal and state hazardous waste regulations if your used oil becomes contaminated from mixing it with hazardous waste. Hazardous waste disposal is a lengthy, costly, and strict regulatory process. The only way to be sure your used oil does not become contaminated with hazardous waste is to store it separately from all solvents and chemicals and not to mix it with anything.

  • Are used oil filters regulated as RCRA hazardous waste?

    Certain used oil filters are excluded from regulation as a RCRA hazardous waste. Non-terne plated oil filters that are not mixed with listed hazardous wastes are excluded from the RCRA Subtitle C program if they are hot-drained by one of the following methods: puncturing and hot-draining; hot-draining and crushing; dismantling and hot-draining; or hot-draining by an equivalent method that removes used oil (40 CFR Section 261.4(b)(13)). Once these conditions are met, these filters may be disposed of or recycled as nonhazardous waste.

  • Do the Part 279 standards for used oil generators apply to farmers?

    Farmers that generate an average of twenty-five gallons or less of used oil per month from vehicles or machinery used on the farm in a calendar year are exempt from the used oil generator standards (Section 279.20(a)(4)). The exemption was established due to the similarities between small farms and households, whose solid waste management is unregulated by RCRA. For example, households and small farms typically have the same number of vehicles owned for personal use that require oil changes and both have residences on site that generate used oil and other exempt household wastes. In addition, EPA recognized that many family farms and small farming operations are not readily accessible to used oil collection centers. Therefore, EPA believes that farms who generate on an average twenty-five gallons of oil per month of used oil in a calendar year should be exempted from regulation (57 FR 41566, 41588; September 10, 1992).

  • How is specification used oil regulated?

    EPA established used oil specification criteria that allow used oil to be burned in non-industrial burners without RCRA regulation (40 CFR Part 279.11). The used oil fuel specification lists maximum allowable limits for arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, and total halogens, as well as a minimum flashpoint (Memo, Cotsworth to Green; September 26, 1997 (RCRA Online #14117). The used oil specifications are as follows: 

    Arsenic - 5 ppm maximum 
    Cadmium - 2 ppm maximum 
    Chromium - 10 ppm maximum 
    Lead - 100 ppm maximum
    Total Halogens - 4,000 ppm maximum 
    Flash point - 100 degrees F. minimum 

    Used oil that meets the above fuel specifications can be burned for energy recovery in any device without EPA restrictions (Memo, Porter to Blair; September 22, 1988 (RCRA Online #13224). The specification determination is made either by testing the used oil or by using historical analytical results (Monthly Call Center Report Question; July 2002 (RCRA Online #14624). A burner of specification used oil must analyze or use information to show that the oil meets specification and must comply with the recordkeeping requirement in Part 279.72 (57 FR 41566, 41597; September 10, 1992). In addition, the first person to claim that used oil meets specification is considered a used oil fuel marketer and must comply with the requirements in Sections 279.72, 279.73 and 279.74 (b) (Memo; Shapiro to Dixon; November 27, 1996 (RCRA Online #14110). The specifications do not apply to mixtures of used oil and hazardous waste which are regulated as hazardous waste (Section 279.10(b)).
     
    Additional guidance regarding specification used oil is available in the following documents:

    Monthly Call Center Report Question; November 2001 (RCRA Online #14584 )
    Memo, Hale to Citizen; September 15, 1996 (RCRA Online #12738
    Memo, Porter to Blair; August 20, 1990 (RCRA Online #13224
    Memo, EPA to Stevens; October 17, 1989 (RCRA Online #13331)

  • How is waste oil regulated? Is it exempt from regulation as a hazardous waste?

    Any oil that has been refined from crude oil, or any synthetic oil, that has been used and as a result of such use is contaminated by physical or chemical impurities is "used oil."  Recycled used oil is regulated in 40 CFR Part 261.6(a)(4) regardless of whether or not it exhibits a characteristic.  Used oil that can't be recycled and is disposed of or sent for disposal must be managed in accordance with all applicable solid and hazardous waste requirements.  Check your state program to see if your state is authorized for the Part 279 regulations. 

    Related Resources:

    40 CFR Section  279.10(a)
    57 FR 41566, 41578; September 10, 1992 
    Monthly Call Center Report Question; November 1996 (RCRA Online 14054)
    Memo, Pertruska to Citizen; October 13, 1993 (RCRA Online 11786)

  • How long can used oil be stored at a used oil transfer facility?

    Used oil transfer facilities are transportation related facilities where shipments of used oil are held for more than 24 hours but not longer than 35 days during the normal course of transportation or prior to an activity performed pursuant to Section 279.20(b)(2). Used oil transfer facilities include loading docks, parking areas, storage areas, and other areas (Section 279.1). Used oil transfer facilities that store used oil for more than 35 days are subject to the standards for used oil processors and re-refiners in Part 279, Subpart F (Sections 279.1 and 279.45(a)). 

    Additional guidance on used oil transfer facilities is available in the following document: 
    Monthly Call Center Report Question; February 2004 (RCRA Online #14702)

  • How must used oil storage containers be marked?

    Containers and aboveground tanks used to store used oil at generator facilities must be labeled or marked clearly with the words “Used Oil" (40 CFR Section 279.22(c)). 

    In addition, it is important to note that this guidance represents clarification of the Federal regulations. Most states are authorized to implement the Federal regulations. We recommend that you also contact your state's implementing agency to acquire additional information on used oil storage. 

  • What are used oil marketers and how are they regulated when directing on-specification used oil to a used oil burner?
    40 CFR Section 279.70(a)(2) defines a marketer as someone who first claims that used oil that is to be burned for energy recovery meets the used oil fuel specifications set forth in Section 279.11

    Used oil marketers can be divided into two categories: those that market off-specification used oil and those that market oil that meets specification. For each category different regulations apply under Part 279, Subpart H. The used oil fuel marketer requirements are applicable to anyone, including a generator, transporter, processor, or burner of used oil, who engages in marketing activities or who first claims that the used oil meets the specification criteria. Under the present definition of marketer, it is impossible for someone to only be a marketer without engaging in any other used oil management practices. For example, a used oil generator who first directs a shipment of off-specification used oil to a burner is a marketer as well as a generator and must comply with the applicable requirements of Part 279, Subpart C and Subpart H

    Once used oil that is to be burned for energy recovery has been shown not to exceed any specification and the person making that showing complies with 40 CFR Sections 279.72, 279.73, and 279.74(b), the used oil is no longer subject to 279.11. Additionally, once used oil has been shown not to exceed specification levels, it is not subject to the restrictions on burning in Part 279, Subpart G (Used Oil Training Module; October 2001, EPA530-K-02-025I). However, if you are also conducting additional activities, such as directing a shipment of off-specification used oil from their facility to a used oil burner or first claiming that used oil that is to be burned for energy recovery meets the used oil fuel specifications set forth in Section 279.11, then you are also subject to regulation as a marketer, unless you meet one of the exclusions provided in Section 279.70(b) (Section 279.70(a)).
     
  • What is the rebuttable presumption for used oil?

    Used oil that contains more than one thousand parts per million (ppm) of total halogens is presumed to have been mixed with a regulated halogenated hazardous waste (i.e., spent halogen solvents) and is therefore subject to applicable hazardous waste regulations A person may rebut this presumption by demonstrating, through analysis or other documentation, that the used oil has not been mixed with halogenated hazardous waste. One way of doing this is to show that the used oil does not contain significant concentrations of halogenated hazardous constituents. If the presumption is successfully rebutted, the oil is not considered to have been mixed with a regulated hazardous waste and is subject to the used oil management standards rather than the hazardous waste regulations. Additional guidance regarding the rebuttable presumption is available in the following documents: 
     

    Monthly Call Center Report Question; August 1999 (RCRA Online #14400)
    Monthly Call Center Report Question; December 1996 (RCRA Online #14051)
    Memo, Lowrance to Hartman; April 5, 1993 (RCRA Online #11735)
    Monthly Call Center Report Question; December 1992 (RCRA Online #13579)
    Memo, Lowrance to Guerci; May 15, 1989 (RCRA Online #13282)
    Memo, Hale to Citizen; September 15, 1986 (RCRA Online #12738)
    Memo, WIlliams to Tarrer; April 8, 1986 (RCRA Online #12608
    Memo, Skinner to Tarrer; October 22, 1984 (RCRA Online #12319

    Additional information regarding the rebuttable presumption.

  • What regulations govern which units may be used for burning off-specification used oil?

    Used oil burners are subject to the regulations in Part 279 Subpart G, Standards for Used Oil Burners Who Burn Off-Specification Used Oil for Energy Recovery.

    Off-specification used oil fuel may be burned for energy recovery in industrial furnaces identified in Section 260.10 or in boilers, as defined in Section 260.10, that are identified as follows:

    • Industrial boilers located on the site of a facility engaged in a manufacturing process where substances are transformed into new products, including the component parts of products, by mechanical or chemical processes
    • Utility boilers used to produce electric power, steam, heated or cooled air, or other gases or fluids for sale
    • Used oil-fired space heaters provided that the burner meets the provisions of Section 279.23
    • Hazardous waste incinerators subject to regulation under Subpart O of Parts 264 or 265 (Section 279.61).

    The used oil regulations include an exemption from the off-specification used oil burner requirements for used oil-fired space heaters provided the heater burns only used oil that the owner or operator generates or used oil received from household do-it-yourself (DIY) used oil generators (Memo, Bussard to Bosco; August 20, 1998 (RCRA Online #14280)).  To qualify, the space heaters must have a maximum capacity of 0.5 million Btu per hour and the combustion gases must be vented into the ambient air (Section 279.23).

    Memo, Shapiro to Nosenchuck; September 25, 1995 (RCRA Online #11944)
    Memo, Bussard to Gansel; April 23, 1991 (RCRA Online #11601)
    Memo, EPA to Stevens; October 17, 1989 (RCRA Online #13331)
    Memo, Porter to Blair; September 22, 1988 (RCRA Online #13224)
    Memo, Hales to Citizen; September 15, 1986 (RCRA Online #12738)
    Memo, Williams to Ricci; June 30, 1986 (RCRA Online #12677)
    Memo, Petruska to Ilgenfritz; February 13, 1986 (RCRA Online #12565)

  • What regulatory standards apply to mixtures of used oil and VSQG hazardous waste?

    Mixtures of used oil and to very small quantity generator (VSQG formerly CESQG) hazardous waste regulated Part 261 are subject to regulation as used oil in Part 279 (Section 279.10(b)(3)).

    Note: On November 28, 2016, EPA published the Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Final Rule, which makes several revisions to the hazardous waste generator regulations including the designation of CESQG changing to very small quantity generator (VSQG). Other revisions may also affect the information provided in this FQ.

    The Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Final Rule is effective on May 30, 2017; however, implementation in a particular state depends on the state’s authorization status. A discussion of the effect that this final rule will have on state authorization is available on page 85801 of the rule. Information about how the rule will affect the requirements in this FQ in a particular state is best obtained from the state hazardous waste program.