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Used Motor Oil - Harming Our Health and Environment

24 May 2004

Up to 100 million litres of used oil goes "missing" in Australia each year - a quantity more than twice the volume of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, one of the greatest environmental tragedies in history.

A major advertising campaign has kicked off around Australia to highlight the hundreds of used oil recycling facilities funded by the Australian Government to help cope with the problem.

Mr Paul Howlett, Past President Waste Management Association and Deputy Chair, Environment Business Australia, has warned that the mismanagement of used motor oil is a serious environmental problem.

"Oil picks up hazardous contaminants as it circulates through engines. One litre of oil can contaminate up to one million litres of water, and the heavy metal in used oil can bio-accumulate in plants and wildlife, poisoning the food chain and posing a risk to human health," Mr Howlett said.

All automotive oils have the potential to be recycled and re-refined if safely and properly collected. Yet many people who change their own motor oil inappropriately dispose of it.

Mr Howlett referred to a report commissioned by the Australian Government which found that one in three households perform their own vehicle oil change - but that nearly half of those people inappropriately dispose, store or reuse the used oil.

"In many cases, the used motor oil is dumped down the drain, adversely affecting sewer treatment plants or going directly into waterways. Some is thrown into the trash, ending up in landfills where it can contaminate surface and ground water," he said.

Mr Howlett said disposing of motor oil inappropriately could also be in contravention of State and Territory Environmental Laws.

He encouraged all Australians to take their used oil to one of the collection facilities operating around the country. People can log on to to find their nearest facility, or call 1800 982 006.