Used Oil Management

December 1997 - TI#16353
What is Used Oil?
Used Oil Generators
Storage of Used Oil
Transporting Used Oil
Recycling Used Oil
Management of Used Oil Filters
Document References

Used Oil Management
This Fact Sheet contains regulatory information regarding the proper management of used oil. It summarizes pertinent standards and regulations that apply to identifying, storing, recycling, transporting, and burning used oil. It also provides information on managing used oil filters and responding to minor oil spills. Good used oil management practices protect our environment and conserve oil resources. The Air Force's Pollution Prevention objectives have been well served by successful used oil management practices. This Fact Sheet seeks to enhance awareness of current applicable used oil management standards and practices.

Used oil has historically been discarded as a substance with no value and with little concern for its effect on soil, rivers, lakes, drinking water, or aquatic life. Due to increasing awareness of the environmental consequences and economic advantages, collecting and recycling used oil has become a common practice. Used oil recycling centers are available almost everywhere, and the applicable regulations developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) are relatively straightforward and easy to comply with. For consumers, industry, and the military, conserving the resource value of used oil has become the rule rather than the exception.

What is Used Oil?
Used oil is defined in Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 279 "Standards for the Management of 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." Used lubricants, hydraulic fluids, heat transfer fluids and buoyants are examples of used oil. Used oil is typically contaminated or mixed with dirt, fine particles, water or chemicals, all of which affect the performance of the oil and eventually render it unusable. It is important to note that used oil, by itself, is not a hazardous waste, even though it may exhibit hazardous waste characteristics. Conversely, in certain cases, used oil mixed with hazardous waste may be managed as used oil rather than hazardous waste.

Mixtures of Used Oil and "Listed" Hazardous Waste
Used oil mixed with any quantity or any combination of a hazardous waste which is listed in Subpart D of Title 40 CFR 261 (a "listed" waste) is generally subject to regulation as hazardous waste rather than as used oil. Exceptions to this rule may apply to used oil which is contaminated with halogens, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) from refrigeration units, and chlorinated paraffins from metalworking oils/fluids. These special cases are discussed in more detail below.

Used Oil Contaminated with Halogens - The Rebuttable Presumption
Under 40 CFR 279.10(b)(1)(ii), used oil containing more than 1,000 ppm total halogens is presumed to have been mixed with a "listed" hazardous waste and, therefore, is subject to regulation as a hazardous waste. However, this presumption may be rebutted by: 1) using knowledge of the halogen content of the used oil in light of the materials or processes used; or 2) analyzing the used oil using methods found in EPA's "Test Methods for the Evaluation of Solid Waste, Physical/Chemical Methods" (SW-846) to demonstrate the used oil/halogen mixture does not contain significant concentrations of halogenated hazardous constituents. The EPA has not established a regulatory definition for "significant concentrations." However, the EPA has determined in an interpretation that concentrations of individual constituents of a halogenated spent solvent less than 100 ppm are not considered significant. Additional interpretation should be requested from the installation's RCRA implementing agency for other hazardous waste streams containing halogenated constituents. Should the presumption be successfully rebutted (i.e., it has been demonstrated the halogen concentration is not significant), the used oil contaminated with halogens would be subject to regulation as used oil rather than as hazardous waste.

  • Synthetic oil - coal, shale or polymer-based.
  • Engine oil - includes gasoline and diesel crankcase oils and piston-engine oils for automobiles, trucks, boats, airplanes, heavy equipment and locomotives.
  • Transmission fluid.
  • Refrigerator oils.
  • Compressor oils.
  • Metalworking fluids and oils.
  • Laminating oils.
  • Industrial hydraulic fluid.
  • Copper and aluminum wire drawing solution.
  • Electrical insulating oil.
  • Industrial process oils.
  • Oils used as buoyants.
  • Waste oil that is bottom clean-out waste from virgin fuel oil storage tanks, virgin fuel oil spill cleanups or other oil wastes that have not actually been used.
  • Vegetable and animal oil, even when used as a lubricant.
  • Petroleum distillates used as solvents.
Note: Oils that do not meet the EPA's definition of used oil may be subject to hazardous waste regulation under Title 40 CFR Part 261. The generator should obtain information about appropriate handling, recycling, and disposal methods for such oils.

Used Metalworking Oils/Fluids Contaminated with Chlorinated Paraffins
Used metalworking oils/fluids contaminated with chlorinated paraffins are not presumed to be hazardous if these oils are processed to reclaim metalworking oils/fluids. (Generally defined, processing includes chemical or physical operations designed to produce fuel oils, lubricants, or other used oil-derived products. It may include blending used oil with virgin petroleum products, filtration, distillation, separation and re-refining.) If the used metalworking oils/fluids contaminated with chlorinated paraffins are recycled or disposed of in any other manner, they are presumed to have been mixed with a "listed" hazardous waste and the above halogen-specific rebuttal may be attempted.

Used Oil Contaminated with CFCs from Refrigeration Units
Used oils contaminated with chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) from refrigeration units are not presumed to be hazardous where the CFCs are destined for reclamation. If used oils contaminated with chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) from refrigeration units are mixed with used oil from sources other than refrigeration units, the mixture is presumed to have been mixed with a "listed" hazardous waste and the rebuttal may be attempted. There is currently no EPA guidance available on the status of used oil contaminated with other refrigerants such as hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) or hydrofluorocar-bons (HFCs). It is recommended that installations contact the RCRA implementing agency for further guidance on handling used oil contaminated with HCFCs or HFCs from refrigeration units.

Mixtures of Used Oil and "Characteristic" Hazardous Waste
A "characteristic" hazardous waste is a solid waste which exhibits one or more of the characteristics of ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, or toxicity as defined in Title 40 CFR Part 261, Subpart C. Mixtures of used oil and characteristic hazardous waste (as opposed to a "listed" waste) are subject to regulation as:

    Used oil if the resultant mixture no longer exhibits any hazardous waste characteristic; or Hazardous waste if the resultant mixture exhibits any of the hazardous waste characteristics.

The above regulatory logic is extended to mixtures of used oil and hazardous waste listed in Subpart D solely because it exhibits a hazardous waste "characteristic." Such wastes are identified in Subpart D with letter codes as follows:
    Letter code "I" indicates the hazardous waste is listed because of the characteristic of ignitability;

    Letter code "C" designates hazardous wastes listed due to corrosivity;

    Letter code "R" denotes the listed hazardous waste has the characteristic of reactivity; and

    Letter code "E" is assigned to hazardous wastes listed due to the toxicity characteristic.

Therefore, used oil mixed with a hazardous waste that is listed in Subpart D solely because it exhibits one or more hazardous waste "characteristics" is also subject to regulation as:
    Used oil if the resultant mixture no longer exhibits any hazardous waste characteristic; or

    Hazardous waste if the resultant mixture exhibits any of the hazardous waste characteristics.

The above rules apply to the hazardous waste characteristics of the resultant mixture, even if the resultant mixture is characteristic due only to the used oil content.

Used Oil Mixed with an Ignitable Waste
There is one important exception to the above requirement that used oil - hazardous waste mixtures exhibiting hazardous waste characteristics must always be managed as hazardous waste. If used oil is mixed with a hazardous waste listed in Subpart D solely because it is ignitable, the mixture is subject to regulation as hazardous waste if the resultant mixture is also ignitable. If the resultant mixture is not ignitable, the mixture is regulated as used oil. The subtle difference in this case is the resultant mixture must only be void of the characteristic of ignitability to be managed as used oil. Any other hazardous waste characteristic of the mixture (I,C,R,E) due to the used oil content would not cause the mixture to be managed as hazardous waste.

Used Oil Mixed with Acute Hazardous Wastes and Toxic Wastes
Finally, mixtures of used oil and hazardous wastes that are listed in Subpart D because they are Acute Hazardous Wastes (letter code "H") or Toxic Wastes (letter code "T") are regulated as hazardous waste regardless of the characteristics of the resulting mixture. Note: the designation as a Toxic Waste (T) is not synonymous with the toxicity characteristic (E). Mixing used oil with hazardous waste in order to knowingly render the waste non-hazardous constitutes "treatment" of hazardous waste and is illegal if it does not comply with all applicable hazardous waste management standards, including permitting.

In summary, hazardous waste disposal is a lengthy, costly and strict regulatory process. Clearly, the more a used oil generator can control or avoid the use of chlorinated solvents and other hazardous wastes, the less likely used oil will become contaminated and require management as hazardous waste. Further, it is important to always know what process used oils result from, and to never mix used oils with other wastes unless their regulatory requirements have been adequately screened and matched prior to mixing. (Figure 1 depicts a flow chart to assist with determining if used oil can be managed as "used oil" or must be managed as a hazardous waste.)

Please refer to Title 40 CFR 279 Subpart B - "Applicability" for more detailed information about materials which are, and are not, subject to regulation under Part 279 as used oil.

Used Oil Generators
Title 40 CFR Part 279 Subpart C defines a generator as "any person, by site, whose act or process produces used oil or whose act first causes used oil to become subject to regulation." Common used oil generators would be transportation maintenance shops, aircraft maintenance shops (generators of large quantities of used synthetic and hydraulic oils) and metals fabrication shops.

  • A household "do-it-yourselfer."
  • A vessel at sea or in port until the used oil is transported ashore.
  • One who mixes used oil with diesel for use in the used oil generator's own vehicle.
  • A farmer who generates on average less than 25 gallons of used oil per month.

Please refer to Title 40 CFR 279 Subpart C - "Standards for Used Oil Generators" for more detailed information about persons and facilities subject to, or excluded from, the definition of a generator.

Storage of Used Oil
Containers and Labeling
EPA's Used Oil Management Standards require generators to store used oil in non-leaking tanks or containers in good condition. Containers, tanks and fill pipes must be labeled or clearly marked with the words "Used Oil." Tanks and containers should not be allowed to deteriorate and any leaks or defects should be corrected immediately.

Spill Response
It is of utmost importance to practice good housekeeping techniques, to properly maintain all used oil storage containers/equipment, and to prevent releases of used oil. It is also very important to maintain a ready supply of oil cleanup materials and associated safety gear. Although not a regulatory requirement, EPA strongly encourages all generators to employ oil-impervious secondary containment systems to control used oil spills. Used oil generators may also be required to comply with shop-specific Spill Response Plans and the EPA Underground Storage Tank standards (Title 40 CFR Part 280 - Subpart F). Notwithstanding, should a spill occur, the following measures must be undertaken immediately:

  • Stop the release at the source. This may involve sealing off piping or transferring oil to a non-leaking tank/container;
  • Contain the used oil by placing an oil sorbing berm around it, utilizing vacuum equipment and/or by mopping it up with oil sorbing materials;
  • Properly manage any recovered oil as used oil, including any free-flowing oil recovered from rags and sorbing materials (rags and sorbing materials not containing free-flowing oil are not regulated as used oil and may be subject to management as hazardous waste); and
  • Repair or replace the defective used oil tank or container prior to placing it back in use.
Record Keeping
The EPA has established a 12-digit identification numbering system for purposes of tracking used oil (in quantities of 55 gallons or greater) and/or hazardous waste being hauled, shipped, transported, or transferred from site to site. EPA ID numbers may be obtained from the regional EPA office or from a local state agency authorized to provide EPA ID numbers. The EPA number is unique to the used oil generator, transporter, facility, etc. so that a record will exist of where used oil has been stored, moved, or processed until it is no longer regulated as used oil under Part 279.

Handlers of used oil who must also keep additional logs, invoices or other shipping records are 1) used oil transporters, 2) used oil processors, 3) used oil burners and, 4) used oil marketers.

Transporting Used Oil
Used Oil
Generators are responsible for ensuring their used oil is transported off-site only by used oil transporters who have an EPA ID number. It is very important to choose a used oil transporter who can demonstrate compliance with all used oil transporter requirements under Title 40 CFR Part 279 Subpart E. It is important to note that moving used oil within the installation, or "on-site," does not subject the used oil to Title 40 CFR Part 279 Subpart E transporter requirements.

In addition to the generator, the used oil transporter is also responsible for ensuring the shipment is in fact used oil. The generator may be asked to provide the transporter with information or analytical results for the used oil shipment to demonstrate this. This is especially important since the rebuttable presumption discussed above as applying to generators, also applies to the used oil transporter. The transporter must maintain records supporting the rebuttal for at least 3 years.

Hazardous Waste
The management, storage, sampling, record keeping and transporting of used oil that has become hazardous waste is subject to the strict and complex RCRA regulatory environment and is beyond the scope of this Fact Sheet. For more information about handling hazardous waste, contact PRO-ACT at DSN 240-4214 or the RCRA/Superfund Hotline at 1-800-424-9346.

Recycling Used Oil
Used oil can be recycled indefinitely. Typically, its original properties are impaired only by impurities that can be physically or chemically removed. Also, the fuel energy stored in used oil can be recovered through burning. Used oil can be recycled in a number of ways:
    On-site reconditioning, which removes impurities from used oil, prolonging its life and rendering it usable again;

    Processing and re-refining with other petroleum products, which means that virgin oil is conserved; and

    Burning for energy recovery in boilers, furnaces, space heaters and incinerators. Under Part 279, used oil not meeting certain specifications ("off-spec") is subject to certain requirements and may be burned only in specified devices. (Used oil that is contaminated and regulated as a hazardous waste must be burned only in a regulated hazardous waste incinerator, or otherwise properly disposed.)

Management of Used Oil Filters
Although Part 279 does not specifically address the management of used oil filters, Title 40 CFR 261.4(b)(13) excludes certain types of oil filters from the definition of a hazardous waste, thereby allowing generators to manage them as non-hazardous solid waste. Used oil filters may be excluded from hazardous waste regulations provided three criteria are met:
  • The filters must be non-terne plated. Terne is a tin/lead alloy historically used to cover the interior of oil filters. The lead content of the plating material may cause the filters to exhibit a hazardous waste characteristic.
  • The filters must not be mixed with hazardous waste since mixtures of solid waste and hazardous waste are regulated as hazardous waste.
  • The filters must be gravity hot drained. Title 40 CFR 261.4(b)(13) specifies used oil filters must be gravity hot drained using one of the following methods:
    • Puncturing the anti-drainback valve or dome end;
    • Crushing;
    • Dismantling; or
    • Using any other method that will remove oil from the filter.
EPA further clarifies gravity hot draining (Volume 57 Federal Register 215214) as draining the oil filter near engine operating temperature and above room temperature for a minimum hot drain time of 12 hours. If an oil filter is picked up by hand or lifted by machinery and used oil immediately drips or runs from the filter, the filter should not be considered drained.

EPA encourages the recycling of used oil filters. Generators, used oil handlers, and shop managers should contact filter recycling facilities to ensure drainage techniques and handling methods are compatible with the filter recycling facility's requirements. For example, filters being recycled at smelters or steel plants should be crushed. However, if filter components such as the gasket or filter papers are to be recycled separately, or must be removed, puncturing or dismantling would be a more appropriate draining method.

The Filter Manufacturer's Council maintains a regulatory hotline and database to encourage the proper management of used oil filters. By calling 800-99-FILTER, the proper management requirements on a state-by-state basis can be accessed. The service also includes a list of companies that transport, process, and recycle used oil filters.

PRO-ACT can assist installations and activities with any used oil management concerns. Please contact PRO-ACT at DSN 240-4214 or visit our web site at

Document References
  1. Title 40 CFR Part 279 - "Standards for the Management of Used Oil."
  2. Title 40 CFR Part 261.4 - "Exclusions."
  3. EPA625-R-94/010 - "Managing Used Oil."
  4. EPA530-F-004 - "Managing Used Oil: Advice for Small Business."
  5. TI# 14070 - "Used Refrigerant Oil Disposal."
  6. TI# 15986 - "Used Oil Aggregation Point vs. Collection Center."
  7. Fact Sheet, "Regulation of Used Oil Filters," July 1994.
  8. Fact Sheet, "Regulatory Alert: Used Oil," January 1993.
  9. Volume 57 Federal Register 21523.
  10. Air Force Instruction 32-7080, "Pollution Prevention Program."
  11. Air Force Instruction 32-7086, "Hazardous Materials Management."
  12. Air Force Manual 32-7043, "Hazardous Waste Management Guide."
  13. T.O. 42B-1-23, "Management of Recoverable and Waste Liquid Petroleum Products."
  14. RCRA/Superfund Hotline at 1-800-424-9346.
  15. PRO-ACT Information Packet (PIP) "Oil/Oil Filter Recycling Equipment."
  16. "Test Methods for the Evaluation of Solid Waste, Physical/Chemical Methods," Edition III, as updated (SW-846). (SW-846 is found in Appendices II and III of Title 40 CFR 261. Copies of SW-846 and its updates may be ordered from the Superintendent of Documents, Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402 (202) 512-1800. The GPO document number is 955-001-00000-1