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Used Oil Under Spotlight

What to do with 30 million litres of used oil?

That is the situation facing New Zealand every year – and it’s a question the Environment Minister, Marian Hobbs, wants answered. She is releasing a discussion paper today focusing on reusing, handling and disposing of our vast quantity of used oil.

“Used oil is the single largest non-watery liquid waste stream in New Zealand. Some 30 million litres are generated annually,” Marian Hobbs said. “During use, oil becomes contaminated with a number of substances that are hazardous to human health and the environment. Therefore, it needs careful management to ensure that human health and the environment are safeguarded.”

The discussion paper describes and proposes solutions for issues such as the effectiveness of national recovery networks, safety and handling and the inappropriateness of using it for low temperature burning and spraying on roads.

The Minister initiated a series of meetings with companies that sell oil at wholesale level. The major oil companies have agreed to work on a better recovery network, providing all sellers of oil are involved.

“This is only fair,” Marian Hobbs said. “We will get a better result if companies feel that they are operating on a level playing field. The Government will regulate if necessary to ensure we get a comprehensive national oil recovery programme, but I would prefer to see industry involved in developing a solution which it can manage.”

The issues raised will be of particular interest to regional and local authorities producing plans under the Resource Management Act, people working in industries that deal with oil and used oil, and to people and groups concerned about the environmental effects of used oil.

Used oil guidelines
The Occupational Safety and Health Service and the Ministry for the Environment are also working towards better management of used oil. They are releasing guidelines on safe, practical ways to manage used oil.

The guidelines were written to address uncertainties about the Dangerous Goods Act 1974 and its application to the management and handling of used oil.

In provisions that become effective from 1 April 2001, garages and workshops storing used oil will need to demonstrate to their local dangerous goods inspector that it is being stored safely. If they can’t do that they will be required to meet the more expensive and complex requirements which apply to flammable liquids under the Dangerous Goods Act.

The guidelines also spell out the various responsibilities of retailers of lubricating oil, home mechanics and others who handle used oil. The aim of the guidelines is to provide useful advice and information to everyone handling used oil, and to people such as council staff and garage staff who might be asked for advice.

The document is intended to sit alongside such key legislation as the Dangerous Goods Act 1974, the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 and the Resource Management Act 1991. The guidelines do not replace or supersede any legal requirements and are not intended for use as a technical specification.

“These practical guidelines reflect the collective experience and expertise of many of the people involved in managing used oil in this country. We have tried to steer a course, which is safe and environmentally acceptable, without involving operators in significant additional costs,” Ms Hobbs said.

“We need robust procedures and facilities in place if we are to handle and dispose of large volumes of used oil in ways that are safe and environmentally sound.“

Copies of the guidelines and discussion document are available from the Ministry for the Environment, Box 10-362, Wellington, or from the website The deadline for submissions on the discussion document, in written or electronic form, is 1 March 2001. A series of meetings with interested parties is scheduled for February or March 2001.

For further information, contact:

Justin Brownlie at Occupational Safety and Health Service (04 915 4390)


Kate Barlow at the Ministry for the Environment (04 917 7492).

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