Hazardous and Solid Waste

Is Bio-oil Mixed with Motor Oil Used Oil?

Changing environmental situations often requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to revisit policies and interpretations of regulations even if the rules themselves are not amended. A case in point is a 1997 EPA policy that precluded the regulation of bio-oils (e.g., vegetable and animal oils) that have been used as lubricants, or for other industrial purposes, from regulations under the used oil management standards at 40 CFR 279.

Fast-forward to the present, when motor oils now contain a percentage of bio-content.


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In 1997 the EPA issued several letters clarifying that 40 CFR 279 does not apply to vegetable and animal oils derived solely from plant and animal sources.  However, those clarifications did not envision situations where such oils would be mixed with conventional motor oils before use. In the recent letter in response to a query from a consultant, EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER) now says that it believes that such oil formulations, once used, could be regulated as used oil under 40 CFR 279 because the resulting used oil mixture still fits within the used oil definition, and that the definition of used oil does not preclude the use of additives in oil formulations.

Note. The definition of used oil, found at 40 CFR 279.1 is” “Used oil means any oil that has been refined from crude oil, or any synthetic oil, that has been used and as a result of such use is contaminated by physical or chemical impurities.”


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In addition, the updated policy also holds that mixing a used, biobased lubricant with used oil would simply result in more used oil as long as the biobased lubricants and the resulting mixture meet the mixing criteria at 40 CFR 279.10(b) and (c). These mixing criteria address the mixture of used oil, hazardous waste, and materials derived from used oil.