Presented by ROSE Foundation

Oil Spill – What happens to used oil in South Africa?

 ·14 Jul 2022

Oil pollution is a serious environmental hazard, but few people stop to consider what happens to all the used motor lubricating oil that is changed out of vehicles and machinery.

With over 12 million registered vehicles on the road in South Africa at present and over 3000 registered workshops, huge volumes of used oil are being generated in the automotive sector.

Equally, mining and manufacturing account for significant amounts of used lubricating oil and grease.

In South Africa, approximately 120 million litres of used oil is generated on average per year.

Some of it, especially in informal industries, is thrown down drains or onto the ground, but most of the available used oil is being collected and recycled.

The lubricants manufacturing sector in South Africa, which has long recognised the hazard that used oil poses, drives responsible collection and recycling through an extended producer responsibility organisation, the ROSE Foundation (Recycling Oil Saves The Environment).

Bubele Nyiba, CEO of the ROSE Foundation, explains that in South Africa most used oil is collected and sent for processing, where it is recycled to remove insoluble impurities.

The resulting reconditioned oil can be burnt as fuel, but cannot be re-used as a lubricant, as there are still soluble contaminants in the oil and the emissions from burning can still can negatively impact air quality.

“The alternative to recycling used oil is re-refining it –  a process that removes all impurities, both soluble and insoluble, and returns the oil back to a quality suitable for use in vehicles.”

“Re-refined oil is equal to or better than some virgin base oils and motor oils can be re-refined many times,” says Nyiba.

Internationally, especially in the European Union, used oil is more likely to be re-refined back to base oil.

The European Union’s Waste Directive strongly favours re-refining over burning for energy recovery.

“However, in South Africa, less than 20% of used oil is re-refined to base oil with most being used as heating fuel,” says Nyiba.

“The international trend of refining the majority of used oil back to base oil is exciting, but premature for a developing country like South Africa because of the prohibitive cost of the technology and developing the necessary processes.”

The recycling relationship

Successful recycling of used oil depends on the generators of used oil working in cooperation with the collectors and processors.

“It is important that used oil is correctly stored for collection in a clean container with a tight-fitting lid, such as a reusable combination drain pan/storage container.”

“If you generate a lot of used oil in your industry, The ROSE Foundation recommends using drums or mini tanks which make maximum use of available space, hold more oil and make collections easier and more efficient,” says Nyiba.

Generators are cautioned not to use containers that previously held chemicals, such as cleaners, solvents, fuels, paint or bleach, and to keep their oil containers covered free of water.

Oil that is contaminated with water is far more difficult to recycle.

Large quantities of used oil from industries will be fetched by collectors.

“You should ensure that your oil collected by a ROSE Foundation registered collector.”

“This will ensure that you comply with the requirements of the Waste Act,” says Nyiba.

DIY car enthusiasts and backyard mechanics who only generate a small quantity of oil,  should store it safely and then drop it off at a nearby motor service centre or selected Autozone stores.

“Most reputable service centres have used oil storage facilities and will take your oil, as they have collectors who take it away for processing,” says Nyiba.

“Larger motor workshops who have bulk storage facilities, are urged to accept used oil and related waste from private individuals.”

“The workshops will be paid  by collectors for the oil collected, so accepting oil from backyard mechanics is at no cost to them and it is the environmentally responsible thing to do.”

Anybody who needs more information or advice on used oil recycling can contact the ROSE Foundation – email: [email protected] or telephone: 021 448 7492

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