Lubricant oils are a common element in our daily lives, as they are needed to allow many engines and mechanisms to function. The EU consumed in 2006 roughly 5.8 million tonnes a year. However, through their use, they loose their properties, become contaminated and at some point they cease to be fit for the use they were originally intended. These used oils are then replaced by fresh lubricating oils and we are left with some waste oils. Some 50% of what is purchased will become waste oils (the rest is lost during use, or through leakages, etc.) That leaves us with approximately 3 million tonnes of waste oil to manage every year in the EU.
Waste oils are hazardous waste as they display some hazardous properties. Waste oils that are found in rivers, lakes and streams threaten aquatic life. Indeed, a litre of waste oil can contaminate a million litres of water. Furthermore, severe soil contamination can result from waste oils being left on the ground.
Waste oils are governed by the Waste Framework Directive 2008/98/EC, especially by Article 21, which stipulates that Member States shall take the necessary measures to ensure that
(a) waste oils are collected separately, where this is technically feasible;
(b) waste oils are treated in accordance with Articles 4 (waste hierarchy) and 13 (protection of the environment and human health);
(c) where this is technically feasible and economically viable, waste oils of different characteristics are not mixed and waste oils are not mixed with other kinds of waste or substances, if such mixing impedes their treatment.
The Waste Oil Directive 75/439/EEC was repealed as of 12 December 2010.
Thus, it is crucial to collect as much as possible this very valuable resource, in order to avoid the contamination of the environment and to be able to profit from the very high recovery potential of this waste stream. Industries, consumers, garages and do-it-yourselfers have to participate, by not dumping these precious liquids but by handing them to authorised collectors that will ensure their adequate recovery.