With petroleum prices skyrocketing and the Mideast in turmoil, Americans are beginning to realize that it's important to conserve oil when and wherever we can.
So it's a good time to talk about recycling our motor oil.
Yes, you can recycle it. Motor oil never wears out; it just gets dirty. When contaminants are filtered out, it's as good as new.
How much motor oil could we save by recycling? According to one source, the United States uses about a billion gallons of it every year. The most efficient oil recycling process, created by Evergreen Oil of Newark, Calif., can turn a gallon of used motor oil into around 2.5 quarts of new oil -- a recovery rate of about 60 percent. That means if we reprocessed every gallon we used, Americans might recover about 600 million gallons of motor oil annually.
But since consumers don't ask specifically for recycled motor oil when we buy it, a market hasn't developed for it -- yet. The result: Most recycled oil is used as fuel for ships or industrial boilers and for industrial lubricants.
Recycling motor oil isn't just a matter of economics. Recycling is the safest -- as well as the most efficient -- way to get rid of it. If you dump it on the ground, it can seep in and contaminate drinking water supplies. If you pour it down a sewer (or onto the street, where it will eventually wash into a sewer), it will wind up polluting rivers and streams. And throwing it into the trash is the same thing as pouring it onto the ground; the oil will be dumped in a landfill, where it will eventually seep into groundwater.
HAT YOU CAN DO Whenever you buy motor oil, ask for re-refined oil. At this point, it may not be easy to find at local suppliers or service stations. But if enough of us ask, it will become available eventually.
If you get your oil changed at a service station, check first to make sure they plan to recycle it. If not, take your car to a station that will.
If you change your own oil:
* Don't mix solvents, water or any other liquid waste in with it.
* Store it in a container with a screw-on top that won't leak -- a plastic gallon milk container, for example.
* Some retailers, service stations and garages accept it (sometimes for a small fee, because they pay to get it taken away). This may depend on whether it's officially designated a hazardous waste in your area.
* You can also take motor oil to a hazardous waste collection site, where it's stored until there's enough accumulated to ship to a recycler. Call your local municipal government for information.
There are several oil recycling kits on the market, generally available at hardware or automotive parts stores. They come with everything you need to recycle your oil. Two of them are:
* Pac-Lube Oil Changer, Pacific Landings Ltd., 1208 S.W. 13th, Suite 200, Portland, Ore. 97205; (503) 222-2343.
* Scott Oil Change Recycling Tub, Scott Paper Do-It-Yourself Business, Scott Plaza, Philadelphia, Pa. 19113; (800) 321-2250.
Do not confuse these kits with those that make it easier to throw your oil away. Those come with a cat litter-type material that isn't recyclable; it all winds up in a landfill instead.
It isn't always easy to find a place to recycle your oil. But it's worth the effort. For more information, write to this trade organization: Association of Petroleum Re-refiners, P.O. Box 427, Buffalo, N.Y. 14205.