My grandfather used to wear spent grease as if it were a fashion statement.
It stained his finger nails and left indistinguishable marks on his shoes, his pants, his once-white t-shirt, and his chalky, white hair. His scent, paired with a rusty iron bouquet, was one of the defining attributes of his being; and as a man who was a master of planning, preparation, and of a steady hand, it always surprised me somewhat to see that he – yet again – came out of the basement workshop looking like he was a coal miner.
Let’s face it: oil is tough to clean up; it gets everywhere, and that’s a problem.
Much of our world is run on oil; petroleum-based fluids and products are constantly being employed in machinery, refined in labs, and used across the globe – so, certainly, spills can be considered an inevitable byproduct of such rampant petroleum usage. Some (ahem) are bigger than others, but even the smallest spills require quick action.
Of course – there is always those spills that are vaguely accidental; you know, those times where you stumbled past a pail-full of used motor oil (that has just been drained from your ’67 mustang) and “accidentally” kicked it over, spilling out the sludge onto your gravel driveway. It seems innocent – one tiny patch of land, who would ever know?
If you are the hypothetical person in this situation, you have done something very, very bad.
1 gallon of used motor oil can contaminate 1 million gallons of fresh water.
That’s bigger than your average pond – an entire ecosystem compromised. So no, nobody cares that you decided to skip out on the soy-based motor oil that may or may not make your Mustang perform like a Focus…but you should at least have the decency to be careful with whatever oil product you choose.
Motor oil is not biodegradable – yes, even though petroleum comes from the earth. There is no reason for you to dump any oil product, no matter if it’s a 55 gallon drum or a 16 oz. bottle. Just DON’T do it. Please.
Thanks to many brilliant advances in the refining processes of oil, people can now recycle motor oil -- this is actually becoming an increasingly popular enterprise among forward-thinking oil-consumers.
Motor oil is highly resistant to degradation – this is why it proves to be a huge problem for the ecosystem when it is dumped. Yet, this quality is one of the saving graces of this widely-used product; instead of being useless, used motor oil can be cleansed, filtered, and repurposed into other oil-based products.
Most recycling centers of motor oil will do it for free, and some (mostly in California) will even pay you for your used engine oil.
In the meantime, you can help prevent further spills by properly securing your used motor oil in airtight containers with a screw-on cap. Use the internet to find a nearby oil-recycling center – for most people, this won’t be a very far drive. If it’s going to be an extended trip, make sure you’ve harbored enough used oil to make it worth the drive. Some might even drive to you.
In short, it’s not cool to dump your used engine oil – not cool at all. Petroleum is an insanely powerful substance that has contributed so much to life as we know it, but don’t take it for granted once you’ve gotten your use out of it. Recycle motor oil, transmission fluid, and anything else your local recycling center is willing to take.
Take as much care with the disposal of oil products as possible – otherwise you’re only hurting yourself.