Environmentally responsible do-it-yourselfing
By Eric Peters
for immediate release

Pouring used motor oil into a storm gutter is right up there with clubbing baby seals; it's just not done, son.

Quart for quart, used motor oil is one of the biggest threats to the environment there is. It's not just that it's dirty (used motor oil contains acids and toxic compounds, including heavy metal residue and other harmful to living things byproducts of internal combustion). Motor oil is also insoluble -- and very slow to degrade. It takes as little as a single gallon of used motor oil to foul as much as one million gallons of drinking water, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Unfortunately, some 60 percent of all do-it-yourself oil changers improperly dispose of their used motor oil -- tossing jugs of it in dumpsters or simply leaving buckets full of the glop for someone else to clean up.

Here's what the EPA recommends you do with used motor oil:

* Use a large drain pan to catch the oil as you drain it -- and to prevent if from spilling onto the ground.
* Pour the used oil in a secure plastic container with a tight lid. (Plastic milk jugs work well and are easy to carry; use a funnel to avoid spills.)
* Do not mix other chemicals/liquids (such as solvents or anti-freeze, etc.) with the used oil (this makes recycling harder).
* Take the used oil to a service station that accepts used motor oil for recycling. (You can find such stations by asking owners/managers, or by checking with your local government. Some stations accept the used oil at no charge while others charge a small amount -- typically less than $5 for as much as 10 quarts of dirty oil.)
* In most states, it is still legal for private individuals/do-it-yourselfers to dispose of the oil filter along with solid waste trash; however, try to drain as much oil from the filter as possible before tossing it in the trash -- and check with your local/state environmental authorities to determine whether recycling options exist (or are mandatory).

(For more information, see the EPA's web site at http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/hazwaste/usedoil).

The old oil will eventually be recycled and re-used -- for everything from home heating oil to fresh engine oil. (The oil itself never wears out; once the contaminants are removed and fresh additives added, it is "good as new.")

According to the EPA, a single gallon of used motor oil can be re-refined into the same 2.5 quarts of fresh motor oil that would otherwise require an astounding 42 gallons of crude oil. And if all the oil from American do-it-yourself oil changers were recycled, it would be enough motor oil for more than 50 million cars a year. Two gallons of recycled motor oil can also generate enough electricity to run the average household for about a day.

Recycling is not just good for the environment -- it could also help put a dent in our dependence on foreign oil.

Similarly, the best home for an old tire is not as far as you can throw the thing into the woods behind your house. Old tires can -- and should be -- be recycled. Left stacked in huge piles, they can become a fire hazard as well as a threat to the environment as they break down. In some areas, old tires provide a home for malaria-bearing mosquitos, too.

Most tire shops will accept used tire carcasses for free (or for a small "hazardous materials disposal" fee; typically less than $10 for a set of four tires).

And don't forget to properly dispose of old car batteries, too. These contain lead and sulfuric acid -- two highly unpleasant substances that need to be properly handled. As with used engine oil, much of the battery's "guts" can be recycled, too.
(Usually, you can get a "core charge" refund simply by bringing it to the store where you bought the replacement battery.)

Also be careful with ethylene glycol antifreeze -- which is lethal to animals (who are attracted to the sweet taste) and toxic to the environment. Never allow this stuff to just drain onto the ground. As with engine oil and other automotive fluids, it should always be stored in secure containers -- and taken to an appropriate recycler for safe disposal.