THERE can be few technologies whose use is quite so circumscribed by rules and regulations as the motor car. And with acci
dent figures on the increase again, it is right that this should be so.
But one social consequence of this plethora of laws is that it is almost impossible for anyone to own a car without at sometime breaking the law. Furthermore, the ever rising cost of maintaining ears is adding to this problem as more and more motorists turn to doit-yourself servicing to help cut costs.
Home servicing usually produces used oil needing disposal and the nearest drain is the most common disposal point. What few motorists realise is that this has been illegal since the 1936 Public Health Act and that the 1974 Control of Pollution Act substantially increased the penalties payable for infringing the Act.
The maximum sentence is now 2 years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. It is not illegal to dump or bury small quantities of used oil in your own garden but you then have to live with pollution. But as well as being a damaging pollutant, threatening soil, water supplies and marine life, used oil is also a potentially useful resource since much of it can be recycled. We consume about 300 million gallons of lubricating oil a year in industry and transport. About half this amount becomes waste oil. At the moment only a paltry 20 million gallons is reclaimed for re-refining and about the same amount is burned as a fuel.
The Waste Management Advisory Council has estimated that 100 million gallons a year, worth more than £30 million, could be economically reclaimed. Private motorists alone could supply 10 million gallons of used sump oil. The re-refined oil can be used to provide a lubricating oil of comparable quality to virgin oil, or if too heavily contaminated, it can be turned into an industrial fuel.
The biggest scope for reclaiming used oil is clearly in industry, where better in-plant practices could ensure that much less oil was unncessarily lost or contaminated. Nevertheless, the contribution that motorists can make is quite significant.
Many garages have sump tanks for their own waste oil. Collection companies, either independent or subsidiaries of the oil re-refining companies, collect from these garages at regular intervals. The garages are nearly always willing to accept, used fuel oil from motorists. At one time the collection companies were providing the garage with a service for which they charged.
The value of waste oil has now risen sufficiently for most collecting agencies to pay for the oil they collect. Prices vary from place to place, generally ranging between 3p and 18p a gallon. A number of local authorities also operate sump tanks for the benefit of individuals and small businesses. The local environmental health officer would know if your council has such a service and how to make use of it.
The waste of used lubricating oil is by no means the worst example of a senseless use of resources that damages both the environment and the economy. But it is a problem where something can be done relatively easily and cheaply to rectify the situation.