Used oil pollution threat

July 30, 2020

Image source: Rose Foundation /

Contaminated oil is dripping into agricultural land across South Africa, contaminating groundwater and rivers as a result of old-fashioned farming practices.

Commercial farming relies heavily on technology and mechanisation – which in turn relies on the use of motor lubricant oils. It is estimated that South Africa generates an average of 120 million litres of used lubricant oil in a year with about 10 million litres of this being generated by the agricultural sector.

Considering that one litre of used oil can contaminate one million litres of water this is a potentially devastating amount of used oil that, if not collected and recycled responsibly, could make its way into our environment.

Unfortunately, in many farming communities in South Africa, habitual practices that have been carried out on farms for generations are often not environmentally friendly and sustainable. These include using used motor lubricating oil as a wood preservative, dust suppressant on farm roads or as a livestock dip, allowing a hazardous product to seep into the ground, contaminating the soil, and possibly seeping into the water table as well as rivers and dams, where it is taken up as irrigation or drinking water.

“Conversion to more sustainable agricultural practice is necessary, both to preserve South Africa's biodiversity and to ensure a future resource base,” says Bubele Nyiba, CEO of the ROSE Foundation (Recycling Oil Saves the Environment) - a national non-profit organization funded by the major producers of lubricants to promote and encourage the environmentally responsible collection and recycling of used oils and related waste in Southern Africa.

“Global environmental concern is growing and the implementation of the Waste Management Act introduces ‘extended producer responsibility’ which places an onus on all South African businesses, farms included, to avoid, minimise, re-use, recycle, treat and dispose of their waste as a last resort.”

Nyiba explains that under the requirement of the Waste Management Act a holder of waste must take all reasonable measures to:
1. Avoid the generation of waste and where such generation cannot be avoided, to minimize the toxicity and amounts of waste that are generated
2. Reduce, re-use, recycle and recover waste
3. Where waste must be disposed of, ensure that the waste is treated and disposed of in an environmentally sound manner
4. Manage the waste in such a manner that it does not endanger health or the environment
5. Prevent any employee or any person under his or her supervision from contravening this Act
6. Prevent the waste from being used for an unauthorized purpose.
"Farmers are urged to gather and store their used oil for responsible collection by a ROSE registered used oil collector who will come and remove the oil and take it to be recycled in an environmentally compliant and safe manner,” says Nyiba.

The ROSE Foundation provides some practical tips on used oil management:
Proper collection of used oil for storage
Used oil must be drained into a clean container with a tight fitting lid, such as a re-usable combination drain pan/storage container. Used oil generators can also use a specially designed plastic ROSE Sumpy to collect used oil. Sumpy containers are available from most spares shops, garages and supermarkets.

Proper storage of used oil
Ensure that used oil is stored in a container with a secure lid so that it cannot spill out. Empty oil containers and drums make effective makeshift storage vessels for used oil, however, containers that previously held chemicals, such as cleaners, solvents, fuels, paint or bleach CANNOT be used.

Containers must always be clearly labelled ‘Used Motor Oil’ and kept in a place that can be accessed by a used oil collection vehicle. A bund wall should be built around bulk used oil storage tanks so that in the event of a spill or leak, the used oil will be contained.

Containers holding used oil should ideally be stored under cover and away from heat or sources of ignition and they must be tightly sealed to protect them from rain water.

It is important to not mix used oil with other fluids such as antifreeze, transmission fluid, petrol, diesel etc. Mixing them may make them non-recyclable as well as very hazardous and flammable.

Proper removal of used oil
Contact a ROSE registered used oil collector who will come and take away your used oil for responsible recycling. Visit the ROSE Foundation website on, email or call 021 448 7492 to find out who your nearest collector is.

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