Radical new EU motor oil rules drafted

Commission plans minimum 15% recycled content, 50% of sales to be collected for recycling

The European Commission is drafting legislation that would impose a minimum recycled content of 15% for machine lubricating oils such as motor oils and dictate that 50% of oil sales are collected for recycling.

The ideas are contained in a draft proposal to revise an existing directive on waste lubricating oils, which has been drawn up by the Commission's environment directorate (DGXI). The new law aims to strengthen prevention of water and air pollution from waste oils and to boost recycling rates. To this end, the draft even proposes that all public procurement of motor oils should be of entirely recycled stock.

Although the existing EU directive already recommends recycling as the best option for waste oils, it contains no binding targets. Under the draft, each member state would have to make sure that at least 50% of all motor oils sold are collected and that 90% of recovered oil is re-refined and used again. Many EU countries already collect over half of waste oils arising, but few if any collect more than half of the amount sold.

An official at the European oil industry environmental association Concawe said that requiring half of oil sales to be collected after use would be practically impossible to achieve as a great deal was lost through leaking and burning in engines. According to figures published in 1996 by the European Union of Independent Lubricant Manufacturers (UEIL), of the 5.2m tonnes of lubricating oils consumed in Europe each year, only 2.6m tons emerges as waste. The UEIL claimed that 1.6m tonnes of wastes arising were collected, 37% of which was re-refined.

The proposal would not only set tough targets for industry. Additional measures to promote recycling by setting a minimum recycled content for "new" oils and dictating procurement policy would mark a change in gear for EU policy. Such rules have been suggested in the past by DGXI and the European Parliament, for example during discussions on the packaging waste directive, but have never been adopted because of opposition from various sides.

The draft would also radically change the way motor oils are bought and sold. Only garages which have the capacity to collect waste oils and to store them properly would be allowed to sell lubricants. Facilities would have to be licensed and inspected by a competent authority. Consumers would only be allowed to buy oil when returning waste oil to a garage.

For any oils that could not be re-refined, the directive would require them to be burned in combustion plants where the energy could be recovered. The text stresses that incineration as a means of disposal should be the last resort and that dumping into land or water would be strictly prohibited.

Machines that burn or leak oil during use, such as chainsaws and other farm machinery, or, like outboard motors, are in constant contact with water courses, would be required to use biodegradable oils only. The directive would also require member states to take action to reduce hazardous substances in oils to make recycling easier.

The draft has yet to be scrutinised by the other Commission departments, but DGXI hopes to launch it as an official EU draft law within one year.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111.

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