Waste Oil vs. Used Oil

What's the difference?

🛢 Waste oil is a term to describe a synthetic or petroleum-based oil that is no longer useful for its originally intended purpose. True waste oil has never been used.
💥 On-the-other-hand, used oil has served its purpose but has accumulated contaminates and been broken down from the heat and friction of a machine or other process.
⭐️ This distinction is important for official regulations, disposal, and the labelling of containers, but in common terms, “used oil” and “waste oil” are used interchangeably.

Waste oil is a term to describe a synthetic or petroleum-based oil that is no longer useful for its originally intended purpose. Technically speaking, true waste oil has been contaminated or changed without ever being used. 

On-the-other-hand, used oil has served its purpose but has accumulated contaminates and been broken down from the heat and friction of a machine or other process. 

This distinction is important for official regulations, disposal, and the labelling of containers, but in common terms, “used oil” and “waste oil” are used interchangeably.

Mass Accumulation and Improper Disposal of Used Oil

According to National Geographic, tens of millions of barrels of lubricant cycle through vehicle engines around the world each year. U.S. drivers alone produce about 1.3 billion gallons of dirty used motor oil annually. And that does not take into account the petroleum-based lubricants used in non-vehicular and heavy equipment for maritime and ground transportation, construction, mining, agriculture, forestry, and other industrial processes.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that 200-million gallons of used oil are improperly disposed of in the U.S. each year. And it only takes 1 gallon of waste oil to contaminate 1 million gallons of fresh water, a year’s supply for 50 people. That means that enough water to supply the whole planet is fouled by dumped waste oil every year!

The Solution: Recycling and Re-refining

Fortunately for us all, there is a solution… Recycling! An estimated 380-million gallons of used oil is recycled annually. But this is still a small percentage of the waste oil and used oil that is produced. With more awareness about the responsible collection, containment, and re-use of oil, there is great potential for improvement around the reconditioning, re-refining, or repurposing of waste oil.

Re-refining allows a portion of used oil and waste oil to be recycled multiple times, but the logistical costs can be a barrier to some used-oil generators. For many, recycling oil on-site for heat can be the best option. 


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Information based on U.S. Energy Information Administration. *Based on insulated space with 16ft. ceiling. Results may vary based on geographical & other considerations.

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