Gadgets powered by Google Calif. Ponders Used Oil’s Impact


What are the cradle-to-grave environmental impacts of used lubricating oil, and of the various alternatives for collecting, reusing or disposing of it? A life-cycle assessment (LCA) under way now in California is about two-thirds of the way to answering that question.

This assessment could be the most comprehensive and costly life-cycle assessment ever done, according to industry consultant Jack Waggener. The budget is $6 million over three years. By contrast, most LCAs cost less than $100,000.

On Nov. 9, Waggener provided a progress report on the LCA during the annual meeting of NORA-The Association of Responsible Recyclers in Bonita Springs, Fla. A consulting engineer with URS Corp. who is based in Washington, D.C., Waggener has attended numerous stakeholder meetings for the LCA in California on NORA’s behalf.

California is funding the LCA, he pointed out, through fees imposed on finished lubricants sold throughout the state. Until recently, the fee was 16 cents per gallon, but in January, 2011, California Senate Bill 546 hiked that to 24 cents and tacked on a “supplement” of 2 cents per gallon to pay for this study.

The end date of the LCA is to be January 1, 2014, Waggener said, and there is to be a report to the California Senate. At that point, the supplemental fee is due to expire, and the levy will click back to 24 cents/gal. Lubes’n’Greases magazine has reported that an estimated 100 million gallons of lubricants are subject annually to the fees, generating $26 million per year for the state to spend on used oil collection and recycling efforts.

California has classified used oil as a hazardous waste since the 1980s; so far Massachusetts is the only other U.S. state to do so. Many others are closely watching this study, however, and the outcome is likely to affect their decisions about used oil handling and disposal, Waggener indicated.

There’s no reason to believe California will change used oil from a hazardous waste, he said, but they do want to increase the collection rate. To that end, he later told Lube Report, the LCA will evaluate a long list of environmental effects-carbon footprint, ecological toxicity, pollutants and byproducts generated, and more-for used oil disposal options ranging from non-collection up to rerefining. The work also requires an economic assessment of the various disposal and reuse options, unusual for this type of study.

The LCA is being managed by Roland Geyer of the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and is supposed to gather input from stakeholders. Ten stakeholder meetings have been held so far, with more to come, Waggener said. NORA Executive Director Scott Parker has been present, as well as United States and European recycling and rerefining companies, major oil companies, the American Petroleum Institute, environmental groups, the state’s Cal Recycle agency, and other regulators.

With their input, LCA managers are now modeling various scenarios for used oil collection, with almost every tool on the table. They’ll look at ways to encourage more consumers to recycle their oil products; to adjust the dollar incentives for recycling; increasing the size or number of used oil storage facilities; to remove current subsidies; enforcement actions or fines; and efforts that target do-it-yourselfers. Tax incentives are also among the options being debated, Waggener added.

He also said the various stakeholders seem to be getting a fair hearing from the project’s managers and state regulators, and the process has been well-managed.

The next stakeholder meeting will be Dec. 4 and 5 in Sacramento. These typically draw 40 to 45 participants, Waggener noted, with some listening in by phone. The study’s web page is

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