April 1, 2014


“No Dumping, Drains to Ocean.” We have all read this on sidewalk storm drains. You may wonder, what exactly is draining into our oceans? The answer is, lots of pollutants, including one of the biggest environmental offenders: used motor oil.

Silent Oil SpillsMade from the same toxic substance as gasoline, 2.5 billion gallons of petroleum-based lubricants and motor oils are sold in the United States each year. Of that, 385 million gallons are disposed of every year – 35 times more oil than was spilled in the Exxon Valdez spill!

Next time you are idling at a stoplight or pulling into a parking spot, take notice of all those dark, greasy spots left behind from the motor oil leaking out of cars. When it rains, storm water carries that greasy oil from the roadways into our ocean, polluting our rivers, watershed and drinking water sources, along the way. These “silent oil spills” from motor oil will only get worse as more cars hit the roads globally.

Take California for example, over 150 million gallons of motor oil is purchased each year.  Resulting in 90 million gallons of “used oil” – the largest single hazardous waste generated in the state. What about the other 60 million? It’s “uncollectable” meaning it is lost in use, usually leaking out of engines.  60 million gallons every year, plus millions of gallons are illegally dumped!

There are current laws in place to encourage safe collection and proper disposal of that oil. For example, it’s illegal to dump used motor oil down the drain (or in your backyard) but it still happens everyday by DIY mechanics changing their oil at home. But more can be done and is – in California.

California Senators recently introduced legislation to require the use of eco-friendly alternatives to petroleum in motor oil. California Senate Bill 916 sets a new environmental standard that at least 25% of motor oil be bio-based and biodegradable. Let your senator know that you support eco-friendly alternatives.

What if your car could run on vegetable or algae-based motor oil? Recent scientific advancements, including some from the USDA, have developed bio-based alternatives to replace the petroleum in motor oils that is a non-toxic, renewable, biodegradable and fully recyclable alternative. These products are cleaner on your car’s engine and would require fewer oil changes.

What Can You Do?

  • Drive less, walk more
  • Make sure your oil is properly disposed after an oil change
  • Support eco-friendly, bio-based motor oils made from vegetable oils or algae!


Replacing petroleum-based oils with safer, cleaner alternatives could dramatically protect and improve the quality of our vital water resources and protect us from having these harmful pollutants enter our body.

Learn more about how you can support non-toxic, environmentally friendly bio-based motor oil by visiting: www.TimeForAnOilChange.org and join the movement for clean water on Twitter #CleanWaterWednesday.

By Annie Reisewitz / Strategic Ocean Solutions

Feature Photo: Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times


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