N E W S F E E D S >>>
SEPA Index Environmental Index


Scottish Environmental Protection Agency

Pollution Prevention Guidlines
These guidelines have been drawn up to assist all who handle used oils, from a single engine oil change to large industrial users. They are produced by the Environment Agency for England and Wales, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Environment and Heritage Service in Northern Ireland, referred to jointly as the Agency or Agencies and should be complied with in order to reduce the risk of oil pollution of surface waters or ground waters, sewers and drains. Further advice may be obtained by contacting your local Agency office. Contact details will be found at the end of these guidelines.

The Agencies are responsible for the protection of "controlled waters" from pollution and for the prevention of pollution of the environment and harm to human health by waste management activities under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (except in Northern Ireland, where different legislation applies). Under the Duty of Care (Reference 1) those responsible for waste must keep it safely. "Controlled waters" include all watercourses, canals, lakes, lochs, coastal waters and water contained in underground strata.

Oil is one of the most commonly reported types of water pollution and causes more than a quarter of all water pollution incidents. Careless disposal of oil into drainage systems, onto land or to watercourses is an offence and damages river life, including birds, fish and other wildlife. Because of the way it spreads, even a small quantity can cause a lot of harm - a gallon of oil can completely cover a one-acre lake. Clean-up operations can be expensive, the costs of which may be recovered from the offender. Used oil may have other hazardous properties; for example used engine oil is classified as carcinogenic and should be handled and stored with care to protect human health.

Do not tip oil into any drains or onto land, as this will result in pollution of rivers or an underground water resource.


a. Engine Oil
Used engine oil from car maintenance should be taken to an oil bank for recycling. These will be found at most civic amenity sites and at some garages and certain major car accessory retailers. Your local authority recycling officer should be able to provide you with details of where these may be found. Alternatively contact the Oil Bank Helpline on freephone 0800 663366 for information. It is important not to contaminate used oil with other materials, such as white spirit, paint or solvents, as this makes recycling extremely difficult.

b. Vegetable Oil
Small amounts of vegetable cooking oil or animal fats can be used as bird food by using it to soak or fry pieces of bread. Some council operated recycling sites have facilities for the collection of vegetable oil. Contact your local authority recycling officer for details.

In most cases, used oil from commercial and industrial sources will be classified as a special waste under the Special Waste Regulations 1996 (Reference 2). As such there are specific requirements which must be met in its movement, treatment and disposal. These are normally dealt with by the contractor collecting the material, who should be able to provide advice if required.

a. Industrial Oil
Larger quantities of used oil, such as hydraulic fluid or lubricants from lorries, buses or mechanical plant, should be stored securely for collection by a registered waste carrier who may pay for the oil. Used oil is a valuable material and should be treated as such. Emulsified cutting oils are highly polluting in water and great care should be taken in their disposal. There are specialist companies who will collect used cutting oils for treatment and recovery of the oil.

b. Vegetable Oil
Cooking oils from major users, such as fish and chip shops, can be collected by specialist contractors for reprocessing. They must not be disposed of to the surface water drain and may not be discharged to the foul sewer without the prior approval of the sewerage undertaker.

c. Garages and workshops
At sites such as garages, used oil can be generated in large quantities. This oil can be collected by a registered waste carrier, or alternatively it may be feasible to use it as a fuel for space heating. This will require adequate storage to balance the supply with the variation in demand through the year and will need an appropriate burner. Such installations require authorisation by the local authority environmental health department or in Scotland, SEPA. See Reference 3 for further information on handling wastes from garages.

d. Transformers
Transformer oil is a special oil used in electrical transformers. Older transformers used Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and if these are present they are likely to be classified as special waste (see Reference 2) and will require specialist handling. Advice should be sought from the Agency.

In all cases, care must be taken when transfering waste oil to storage facilities to avoid spillage. Any spills should be dealt with, using absorbant materials.

a. Above ground storage
Separate guidelines for above ground oil storage tanks are available (see Reference 4). In general, any oil storage tank or oil stored in drums should be sited on an impervious base within an oil-tight bund. No damp-proof course should be provided in the bund wall structure and there should be no drainage outlet. The bunded area should be capable of containing at least 110% of the volume of the tank or the largest drum and fill pipes, funnels, draw pipes and sight gauges should be enclosed within its curtilage. Any tank vent pipe should be directed downwards into the bund.

b. Underground pipes
Underground oil pipelines may be subject to damage and corrosion and above ground pipelines are preferred. When this is not practicable, appropriate protective measures against damage and corrosion, such as double wall piping or laying the pipe in a conduit, should be provided.

c. Underground tanks
Underground storage tanks may be subject to damage and corrosion, leading to unseen leakage. Where their use is unavoidable, protective measures such as a double skin and regular inspection and testing should be incorporated.

1. Waste Management - The duty of Care- A code of practice: ISBN 0-11-753210 X

2. Classification of special waste: Information sheet 1: Environment Agency Use of the consignment note: Information sheet 2: Environment Agency Obtaining and sending consignment notes: Information sheet 3: Environment Agency
A guide to the Special Waste Regulations, 1996: SEPA
3. PPG19: Garages and vehicle service centres
4. PPG2: Above ground oil storage tanks
References 2-4 are available free of charge from the Agencies


The 24-hour emergency hotline number for reporting all environmental incidents relating to air, land and water in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.