Used oil on farms can provide numerous challenges involving storage and disposal; however, there are a number of options available to manage used oil safely and efficiently. 

EPA regulation

The EPA provides detailed information on used oil regulation. Used oil is categorized as any synthetic oil that has been used and, as a result, is contaminated by physical or chemical impurities. Impurities such as dirt, water and chemicals can become mixed into oil during use.

Used oil no longer serves the desired function and must be replaced with virgin oil or refined oil. Vegetable oil, animal oil, antifreeze, kerosene and virgin oil cannot be described as used oil and are subject to different regulations.

The EPA states that agricultural producers who generate an average of 25 gallons or less per month from vehicles or machinery are exempt from “generator status” and are subject to less demanding regulation. Farms that produce more than 25 gallons are required to store it in tanks meeting underground or aboveground technical requirements and to use a certified hauler to remove used oil from the farm.

Storage in unlined surface impoundments (defined as wider than they are deep) is banned. State laws will vary in relation to storage options. Most states allow small-scale operators to store oil in drums or barrels up to 55 gallons. These containers should be labeled as “used oil” and must never have held chemicals. For larger storage tanks, some states will require a containment area which can contain and hold the volume of the tank in the event of a major leak.


Disposal options

A number of options are available to farmers to safely manage used oil. These include storing used oil until sufficient volume is reached to facilitate on-farm collection, bring the oil to a certified collection center or burn it in a boiler. Thousands of collection companies and collection points are located across the nation.

Most centers can accommodate up to 55 gallons per person per day. Collection companies will sometimes pay farmers for used oil if crude oil prices are high. With current low oil prices at $60 per barrel, most companies will collect for free or charge the farmer a small collection fee.

Used motor oil never wears out. If cleaned, it can be reused repeatedly. While some farmers have reportedly cleaned used oil and reused it in old machinery, this practice is not recommended by machinery manufacturers as the chemical structure of used oil can damage machinery over time.

Used oil should never be dumped, buried or used to replace cleaning or lubricating agents. Used oil poses a major threat of polluting soil and watercourses, and all necessary steps should be taken to protect your farm and water supply.

Leaks and spills should be avoided at all costs. The EPA advises producers to have a pre-planned reaction program in place to handle a spill. In the event of a leak or spill, absorbent materials should be close at hand to control the spread of oil, e.g., sawdust.

The leak should be stopped at its source and contained using absorbent materials. The oil must then be cleaned up and recycled. The final step in managing a spill is to remove, replace or repair the faulty tank/container.

On-farm solution to disposing of used oil

Many farmers use plastic IBC tanks as temporary storage for used oil. These tanks are cheap, lightweight and moveable. However, they can be easily damaged, punctured or cracked. A permanent metal or plastic oil storage tank provides a more secure, long-term storage option.

Vinny Endres, a dairy farmer from Wisconsin, has designed a homemade solution to solving his used oil issue.

His “invention” is based on an 8-gallon sink, which collects any waste oil, spillages, leaks, etc., from fresh oil, gas and lubricants, which are stored above the sink. All jugs and drums used to transfer oil to machines are also stored above the sink to catch any drips.

Underneath the sink, a diaphragm pump is used to move oil to the storage tank located close by. Endres claims the diaphragm pump is more reliable than electric pumps, which can deteriorate and break if allowed to run dry.

A sieve and filter remove any physical debris from the oil before it enters the storage tank. From here, the oil is pumped as required to an oil boiler, which is used to heat water for the milking parlor.

While Endres’ system efficiently disposes of used oil, minimizes pollution risk and generates hot water in the process, recycling is the preferred method of treating used oil as it reduces the demand for crude oil. According to the EPA, if all home and farm oil changes were recycled, it would provide enough motor oil for 50 million cars a year. Recycling used oil is a win-win solution for your farm and the environment.  PD