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Many people use the terms "waste oil" and "used oil" interchangeably. While both labels may identify the same fluid, from a regulatory standpoint there is a significant difference. Used oil is defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as follows:
"Used oil is 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."
This applies to petroleum or synthetic-based oil that has been used previously. In contrast, waste oil has been contaminated and is deemed not usable.
Due to some of the additive chemistries, it is entirely possible that this mixture of finished lubricant and water would exceed the chemical limits and need to be classified as waste oil.
Oils that are off-specification typically contain arsenic (5 ppm), cadmium (2 ppm), chromium (10 ppm) and lead (100 ppm), as well as have a minimum flash point of 100 degrees F and total halogens of more than 4,000 ppm. This would qualify the mixture as hazardous waste.
Hazardous materials are defined in various ways under a number of regulatory programs, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), etc.
In addition to the EPA’s used oil management standards, you should consult with your local codes on what their requirements are for waste oil.
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 the used oil in a tank that is separate from all solvents and chemicals and do not mix it with anything.
The easiest way to ensure that you are in compliance and can avoid these fees and headaches is to label containers correctly. Unless it is truly waste oil, it should be labeled as "used oil."
Also, be sure to keep proper records. The EPA uses 12-digit identification (ID) numbers to track used oil. Transporters hauling 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 offsite. Used oil transporters, processors, marketers and burners are required to keep records of each used oil shipment accepted for transport. These records for shipment must include:
These records are required to be kept for at least three years. It is recommended that you maintain these same records for the same period. As the ISO 55001 certification becomes more prevalent, this recordkeeping will be a positive step toward certification.
It should be noted that any used oil shipments less than 55 gallons do not need an EPA tracking number. However, special permitting may be required by state and local governments.