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Oil Recycling & Re-Refined Oil FAQs

Why Recycle Used Motor Oil?

Used motor oil contains many toxins. When used motor oil is disposed of improperly, these toxins can get into the water we drink and the food we eat.

What Toxins are Found in Used Motor Oil?

As motor oil circulates through an engine, it picks up heavy metals and chemicals. Arsenic, lead, magnesium, cadmium, copper, zinc, chromium, chlorides and PCBs are some of the toxins found in used motor oil.

Why is it Wrong to Pour Used Motor Oil on the Ground?

When used motor oil is poured on the ground, not only does it kill the plants it is poured on, it also seeps down through the soil and can end up in the groundwater. The City of Santa Monica used to get 70% its water from local wells until this past year when these wells became contaminated. Santa Monica wells have been polluted by a gasoline additive (MTBE) which has seeped into the ground from various underground gasoline pipelines and storage tanks. The city now gets only 30% of its water from local wells and 70% from the Colorado River, which is four times as expensive as the local well water. This translates into higher water bills for Santa Monica residents.

Why is it Wrong to Throw Used Motor Oil in the Trash?

Used motor oil which is thrown in the trash can spill on sanitation workers and cause injuries. It can leak during transport to the landfill causing contamination. In addition, used motor oil put into a landfill can eventually leak into the groundwater.

Why is it Wrong to Pour Used Motor Oil Down a Street Storm Drain?

In Santa Monica, all the storm drains flow directly to the ocean. Used motor oil and its associated toxins are not only damaging to the plants and animals living in the ocean, they are also unhealthy for the people swimming and wading in the ocean. In addition, the toxins in used motor oil can become concentrated in the fish we eat.

Why is it Wrong to Pour Used Motor Oil Down Household Drains?

Everything that goes down your household drain flows first to a sewage treatment plant, then into the ocean. Sewage treatment plants are equipped to deal with human waste. They are not effective at removing chemicals. In fact, oil actually kills the good bacteria that a treatment plant uses to purify sewage.

Does the Amount of Oil in One Oil Change Really Have Such a Big Impact on the Environment?

Absolutely. Every discharge of oil has a significant impact. One gallon of oil can contaminate one million gallons of water.

How Much Used Motor Oil Ends Up in the Ocean, Waterways and the ground Each Year from Illegal Dumping?

An incredible amount. In the United States each year, we pollute the environment with up to 30 times the amount of oil spilled during the Exxon Valdez disaster.

What is the Proper Way to Dispose of Used Motor Oil?

Santa Monica provides household residents with curbside collection of all recyclables including used motor oil and filters. Pour the used motor oil into a clean plastic container that has a screw on lid so the oil won't leak. Plastic milk containers work well. (Do not pour the used motor oil into a container which has previously contained other automotive or household chemicals. This will contaminate the oil and make it impossible to be recycled.) Put the oil filter in a plastic bag. Then, on collection day, leave the oil and filter out at the curb with the other recyclables.
Residents living in areas without curbside recycling service can take their oil and filters to one of 13 collection centers in Santa Monica. For a listing of these locations look on this web site or call (888) CLEANLA.

Why Recycle Oil Filters?

Oil filters are a big pollution problem. Most oil filters and the used motor oil they contain are ending up in landfills where they can leak and cause contamination.

Are There Any Laws Concerning the Disposal of Used Motor Oil and Filters?

Yes, it is against the law to pour used motor oil on the ground, down the storm drain or down household drains. It is against the law to throw used oil and filters in the trash. If you are caught violating these laws the fines run between $500 up to $250,000.

What is the City of Santa Monica Doing to Encourage the Recycling of Used Motor Oil and Filters?

  1. Santa Monica has a weekly curbside recycling program which includes the collection of used motor oil and filters.
  2. Residents who live in areas where curbside recycling is not available can take their oil and filters to Santa Monica's permanent Household Hazardous Waste Collection Facility located at 2500 Michigan Ave. It is open Wed-Sat from 8AM to noon. There is a 5 gallon limit and you must show proof of Santa Monica residency. For more information call 458-8527.
  3. In addition, a number of local auto parts shops and lube shops will accept used motor oil and filters at no charge. For the locations, call (888)CLEANLA.
  4. The City of Santa Monica provides free reusable oil recycling containers to the public. For a free container visit the city's Household Hazardous Waste Facility.
  5. The city contracts with a local Latino non-profit organization to run public education programs about oil recycling in Santa Monica's Latino communities.
  6. Staff from the city's Environmental Programs Division run education programs on oil recycling for the public and in the local Santa Monica Schools.

Where Does the City of Santa Monica Get the Money to Fund Oil Recycling Programs?

The City of Santa Monica receives grants for oil recycling from the California Integrated Waste Management Board. The Board gets money for these grants from a fee placed on motor oil sold in California. There is a 4 cents per quart fee on each quart of oil sold in California. Any individual can get this 4 cents per quart back when he/she takes the used motor oil to a certified collection center for recycling. The money which is not collected by customers goes into a program which funds oil recycling programs throughout the state of California.

What is Re-Refined Motor Oil?

Used motor oil can be taken to a special refinery and processed to remove all impurities. The end result is a re-refined high grade oil which can be used as a base stock in the formulation of more motor oil. This base stock is as good as, and sometimes even better than, crude . Motor oil is truly recyclable. It can be re-refined again and again.

Does the Used Motor Oil that I Take to a Collection Center Eventually Get Re-refined?

Some of your used motor oil may be going to a re-refinery, but most is not. Most is used as a cheap source of fuel in cement kilns and ships. When this untreated used oil is burned for these purposes, the toxins are emitted into our air.

Why Doesn't All of the Oil Collected get to be Re-refined?

There is not a big market for re-refined oil. The public needs to be educated about the high quality of re-refined oils. Some oil companies are reluctant to use re-refined oils in their blends, not because of quality issues, but because of public acceptance. The public needs to learn that re-refining of used motor oil is a sophisticated process which yields high quality lube oil. On any blend of oil, the customer should look for the API (American Petroleum Institute) certification as an indicator of quality. Most brands of re-refined oil have received this API certification and meet their stringent quality control standards.

What Role Does a Retailer Play in Oil Recycling?

Retailers can be part of the oil recycling education and implementation process by:
  1. offering oil and filter recycling in their stores,
  2. educating their staff as to why oil recycling is important and how it can be done, and
  3. educating customers and encouraging them to recycle their used motor oil and filters.
For more information about used oil and filter recycling contact the Santa Monica Office of Sustainability and the Environment by email at or by phone at (310) 458-8711.
Last updated: Wednesday, 10/02/2013

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1685 Main St., Santa Monica, CA 90401 · (310) 458-2213 · TTY (310) 917-6626