You Dump It, You Drink It

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   Recycling used motor oil helps protect our environment and conserve natural resources like fresh water.  

Recycling used motor oil helps protect our environment and conserve natural resources like fresh water.  

Every 3,000 miles or so we have to do some maintenance on our vehicles to keep them running smoothly. Used motor oil is a product that needs to be disposed of in a responsible way. Ideally, you take your vehicle to a business where a trained professional can change the oil and send it to off be recycled. According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), used motor oil from a single oil change can ruin a million gallons of fresh water. That’s the equivalent of a year’s supply of water for 50 people.  

When handling used motor oil remember, “You dump it, you drink it”. Used motor oil is insoluble and slow to degrade. It usually contains toxic chemicals and heavy metals that can contaminate soil if there is a spill. Oil can stick to everything from beach sand to bird feathers resulting is a very difficult cleanup. Since it’s so persistent it can easily contaminate waterways resulting in the pollution of sources of drinking water.

However, it’s important to note that this used motor oil can be recycled or refined for use as a lubricant for other types of equipment. The EPA estimates that one gallon of used motor oil provides the same 2.5 quarts of lubricating oil as 42 gallons of crude oil. Some used motor oil is also re-refined and used as part of the new motor oil. Valvoline, for example, sells motor oil that contains 50% recycled or re-refined motor oil under the name brand NextGen.

With so many benefits to recycling it’s no wonder that service stations and retailers collect used motor oil during each oil change. Used motor oil from cars, trucks, boats, motorcycles, farm equipment and lawn mowers can all be recycled and re-refined. But, if you’re a do-it-yourself oil changer you can recycle your used motor oil too. In fact, if all the do-it-yourself oil changers in the US recycled their oil, it would be enough oil to service more than 50 million cars a year. 

Recycling your used motor oil is easy. First, identify a service station or other collection site that accepts the used motor oil for recycling. In Whitfield County, there are four convenience centers where residents can drop off their household garbage and recyclables. Each of these sites also has a drop-off area for used motor oil. There is a limit of five gallons accepted per person per day. Please note that this service is for residents only, not commercial entities.

In 2015 an estimated 10,000 gallons of used motor oil was collected at the four convenience centers. To identify the one nearest you visit the Dalton-Whitfield Solid Waste Authority online at or call 706-277-2545. To identify a service station or retailer that may accept used motor oil visit Be sure to call ahead to identify the service hours and particular requirements the retailer may have.  

When changing your oil be careful to not spill any on the ground. Always keep clean-up materials like rags, sand, booms or clay kitty litter close by in case you have a spill. Put used cleaning materials in the trash when they do not contain any free-flowing oil and can no longer be reused.

Collect used motor oil in a clean plastic container with a tight-fitting lid. Label the container as “used motor oil” and use it to transport the oil to a collection site. Never use containers that once held chemicals, solvents, paints, antifreeze, food or beverages to avoid mixing hazardous materials. Instead of reusing a plastic container you could purchase a new one like the Hopkins Recycled Oil Can which is made from recycled plastics and already has a label that reads “recycle oil”.

After changing the oil in your vehicle take the used motor oil to a drop off site. Carefully pour the oil into the collection tank and immediately report any spills to the attendant. Some collection sites only accept the oil, not the collection container you transported the oil in. At the county convenience centers used containers should go in the trash with other household garbage. Plastic containers contaminated with motor oil cannot be recycled in the current program which focuses on food and beverage grade plastic bottles and jugs.