Recycle oil bottles

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Staff member
Jun 4, 2002
The Motor City
Do you guys put your empty oil bottles in the recycle bin? Some time ago I heard bottles that contained oil, antifreeze, or detergent can't qualify for recycling because of contamination from these harsh chemicals.

I change oil for seven cars, plus transmission fluid and power steering flushing, which means a lot of empty bottles might be needlessly tossed in the trash.
Here in NC I recycle them. I just let them drain for 24 hrs and toss in the recycle bin. Nothing has been said to me. Now what the recycle people do with them I don't know. I figure till my area recycling center tells me otherwise I will recycle them.

It is amazing on what parts of the country recycle. Back home in Pa they still don't recycle anything. Feels weird to throw away plastic and glass while I'm back home after recycling it for the past 20 yrs here in NC.
They have the HDPE recycle emblem on the bottom, so I recycle TONS of plastic, inc oil in PA.
No problem recyling them here in No. California. I've been putting used oil and antifreeze bottles in our recycling container for years without problem. Our trash company's literature says that they take any # 1-6 plastics.

Fortunately we also have curbside used oil and oil filter recycling service!

As long as they do not contain used oil residue it should be fine. New motor oil is not considered toxic or hazardous, read the label or MSDS. My trash hauler accepts plastic containers marked with 1 or 2 only.
Here's the reply I got from our city:

"Thank you for your e-mail and your interest in Livonia's recycling programs. Any container that held a petroleum-based product should be disposed of in the trash as the oil permeates the plastic and renders it unusable for recycling. A container that held antifreeze or detergent can be recycled after it is rinsed out."

Looks like I better stop recycling the containers. Just because the guy working for the city takes them doesn't mean he knows what he's doing.

I'm curious why other communities okay used oil bottles.
This is getting nuts! Funnels are a source of contamination! Of what? Maybe if you drink beer with one! Anyway, how is the plastic actually recycled? I think it is either melted (with heat)_ or dissolved, with a solvent...though I don't know what that solvent might be. At any rate, they are probably shredded first, in which case the oil soaked plastic would be good for the machinery. The small amounts of oil "absorbed" by the plastic would certainly be small and any manufacturing process used to make a new material would almost just as certainly evaporate any residual oil.
The high density polyethylene used in oil bottles and many other common containers never melts down into a thin liquid. At 300-400 F it is soft enough to push around under high pressure. I think extruders are usually used, but maybe Banburies too. Extruders have a big screw in a heated barrel. As for a Banbury, see Both depend on a certain amount of friction to feed the material in. Both need a certain amount of lubricant, but too much, and the material just sets there. I think the way I drain oil bottles, they would be OK. Others are less careful.

The other matter is that recycling has problems. We can gather up more plastic and paper than we can use. So since much of it still goes into the landfill, it may as well be the automotive stuff. Incineration with heat recovery would make more sense. Done right, it wouldn't cause any more pollution than burning coal. The glass and aluminum industries have skillfully played the environmental crazies into supporting energy intensive recycling programs.

Leave an oil covered funnel around your garage from one oil change to the next, and who know what will be sticking to it. the small end is hared to wipe clean. With quarts, I always cut off the bottom of the first.
how recycling works (or how it was explained to me by someone who works in the business):

The bags are opened up and contents placed on a convayer belt. An observer looks for objects that are perfect. He then picks up these objects and places them elsewhere. If he sees something like the motor oil bottle then he doesn't touch the thing. If he feels lazy and doesn't pick up a perfect thing then it goes to the trash.

here in Wi, everything is "recycled", meaning, all our trash and recycling goes to the same place and someone does this.
In my area they say no automotive product containers. After all, not everybody is like BITOG and carefully drains every last drop of precious oil into the crankcase.

That is one thing I like about the 5 quart containers. I have been cutting the bottoms off and using them to organize stuff in my garage. One top is better than 5 quarts to pitch.
My community specifically says no motor oil containers. Empty one quart containers make a quick disposable funnel if you cut the bottom off. And it is clean. The Lube Tips newsletter I just received said that "Funnels are a source of contamination and should be avoided."
I've always put mine in the regular trash, I also figured that if motor oil touched it, the plastic would then be no good.
Is it just me or are there just as many myths and opinions about the technical side of recycling ... as there are about oil.

My bottles, unfortunately, go in the trash.

--- Bror Jace
I called the city where I live that does the recycleing and they told me the residue could not be removed so they caould not be recycled.
How about oil filters?

The Wisconsin DNR allows landfill disposal of used oil filters that are "drained". Obviously, the definition of drained is open to interpretation.

How do the quick-lube shops dispose of used filters?
"I believe they pierce/crush the oil filters to drain as much oil out as possible. I've seen machines sold specifically for that purpose."

Yes, I've seen rather neat stand-alone hydraulic-ram-press-type machines which crush oil filters. Imagine a slightly smaller vertical wood splitter ... perched in a parts wash basin. Of course it had guards/shields to deflect the inevitable squirting which would result from mashing a filter still holding 4-12oz of oil.

I use a hammer, nail and some patience to let them drain overnight. Much cheaper if you are only doing 1-2 per month.

--- Bror Jace
I should probably start doing that, especially for the ADBV filters. What's the technique?... pierce the bottommost part of the oil fiter, then drain?... or is there a better location for the hole?
For oil filters to drain properly, they need to pierced from the inside out. Don't panic, let me explain. The bottom of the filter is usually two layers thick, the pressure relief/anti drain back valve (depends on design). The filter will generally stand up if placed on a wire support on its bottom, I use a metal milk crate that my drain pan can sit under. Insert the piercing tool in the threaded opening that normally screws onto the block, I use a rather long ice pick. Press down on the tool until it peirces both layers of steel, it's not too tough to do. I let the filter sit overnight at least, dripping into the pan. Then it can go into the trash, not before. The oil goes to a Jiffy place for recycling.
Recycling of plastic and glass as I have observed it. The recycled items are collected seprately and taken to a center where they are placed on a conveyor belt. The operator goes over every item looking for aluminum cans, which are promptly removed. The conveyor belt then moves the remaining material up into a large dumptruck which is then taken to a landfill and buried!
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