Oil Recycling Bill Calls for Deposit of 5 Cents a Quart


California motorists who change their own oil will have more legal places to dump the used black goo if legislation approved Monday in the Assembly becomes law.

The measure, by Assemblyman Byron Sher (D-Palo Alto), would slap a nickel-a-quart surcharge on the sale of new motor oil and use the proceeds to entice service stations and oil-change specialists to accept used oil from the general public.

“People want to do the right thing,” Sher said. “But they don’t have a way to conveniently or even feasibly dispose of their oil.”

The state’s motorists generated 137 million gallons of used oil in 1988. But only 46% of that was recycled, according to a state study.


The problem, Sher said, is that the study shows 60% of car owners change their own oil and only 5% of them properly dispose of the used oil.

The rest dump it into storm drains, stick it in their back yard, leave it alongside country roads or throw it in the household trash, which goes to a landfill.

Attempts to require every business that sells motor oil to accept used oil have failed because of opposition from retailers unwilling to handle used oil from the public. Sher’s bill is different because it relies on a financial incentive rather than a government mandate to get the service station and oil-change shops into the oil-collection business.

Here’s how it would work:


Oil manufacturers would have to pay five cents a quart, or 20 cents a gallon, into a state fund as a deposit on lubricating or industrial oil sold to dealers for resale in California.

The surcharge is expected to be passed along to retail customers. Do-it-yourselfers who change their own oil could get their money back by taking their used oil to a state-certified oil-collection center.

Motorists who took their car to a service station or oil-change center would not get the refund. Instead, the company that changed the oil would get the money in return for agreeing to accept used oil from the public. The refunds are expected to generate several hundred dollars a month for the businesses.

“People aren’t going to recycle their oil for the nickel, but the nickel is needed to provide the incentive to these companies to act as a collection point not only for their customers but for the general public,” Sher said. “Some of these companies have to pay to have the oil hauled away.”


Any money paid into the state fund through deposits but not refunded to customers or the companies that change oil would be used to promote recycling.

The bill would allow big industrial users, including trucking companies that service their own vehicles, to recoup the deposit without opening their oil storage facilities to the public.

Still, the trucking industry opposes the bill, which passed the Assembly and was sent to the Senate on a bipartisan 50-18 vote. The measure is supported by Pennzoil, the giant oil company that recently purchased controlling interest in Jiffy Lube International, the franchiser of auto service stores.

Many Republicans who usually oppose government intervention in business and industry voted for the bill.


“The government has created the need to dispose of oil in special ways, yet we’ve made no provision to make disposal spots available to the people,” said Assemblyman Pat Nolan (R-Glendale). “We’ve made criminals out of normal people who are trying to maintain their cars. I want to make it as easy as possible for them to dispose of this stuff.”