Used oil on South African farms polluting the environment

Contaminated oil is dripping into our agricultural land across South Africa, contaminating our groundwater and rivers as a result of old-fashioned farming practices.

Agriculture generates millions of litres of used oil

Commercial farming relies heavily on technology and mechanisation – which in turn relies on the use of motor lubricant oils. It is estimated that South Africa generates an average of 120 million litres of used lubricant oil in a year with about 10 million litres of this being generated by the agricultural sector.

Considering that one litre of used oil can contaminate one million litres of water this is a potentially devastating amount of used oil that, if not collected and recycled responsibly, could make its way into our environment.

Unsustainable practices

Unfortunately, in many farming communities in South Africa, habitual practices that have been carried out on farms for generations are often not environmentally friendly and sustainable. These include using used motor lubricating oil as a wood preservative, dust suppressant on farm roads or as a livestock dip, allowing a hazardous product to seep into the ground, contaminating the soil, and possibly seeping into the water table as well as rivers and dams, where it is taken up as irrigation or drinking water.

“Conversion to more sustainable agricultural practice is necessary both to preserve South Africa’s biodiversity and to ensure a future resource base,” says Bubele Nyiba, CEO of the Recycling Oil Saves the Environment (ROSE) Foundation – a national non-profit organisation funded by the major producers of lubricants to promote and encourage the environmentally responsible collection and recycling of used oils and related waste in Southern Africa.

“Global environmental concern is growing and the implementation of the Waste Management Act introduces “extended producer responsibility,” which places the onus on all South African businesses, farms included, to avoid, minimise, re-use, recycle, treat and dispose of their waste as a last resort.

Legal requirements for waste removal

Nyiba explains that under the requirement of the National Environmental Management: Waste Act, 2008 a holder of waste must take all reasonable measures to:

  • Avoid the generation of waste and where such generation cannot be avoided, to minimise the toxicity and amounts of waste that are generated.
  • Reduce, re-use, recycle and recover waste.
  • Where waste must be disposed of, ensure that the waste is treated and disposed of in an environmentally sound manner.
  • Manage the waste in such a manner that it does not endanger the health of people or animals or the environment.
  • Prevent any employee or any person under his or her supervision from contravening this act.
  • Prevent the waste from being used for unauthorised purposes.

“Farmers are urged to gather and store their used oil for responsible collection by a ROSE-registered used oil collector who will come and remove the oil and take it to be recycled in an environmentally compliant and safe manner,” says Nyiba.

Used oil management

The ROSE Foundation provides some practical tips on used oil management:

Proper collection of used oil for storage

Used oil must be drained into a clean container with a tight-fitting lid, such as a re-usable combination drain pan/storage container. Used oil generators can also use a specially designed plastic ROSE Sumpy to collect used oil. Sumpy containers are available from most spares shops, garages and supermarkets.

Proper storage of used oil
  • Ensure that used oil is stored in a container with a secure lid so that it cannot spill out. Empty oil containers and drums make effective makeshift storage vessels for used oil, however, containers that previously held chemicals, such as cleaners, solvents, fuels, paint or bleach CANNOT be used.
  • Containers must always be clearly labelled “used motor oil” and kept in a place that can be accessed by a used oil collection vehicle. A bund wall should be built around bulk used oil storage tanks so that in the event of a spill or leak, the used oil will be contained.
  • Containers holding used oil should ideally be stored under cover and away from heat or sources of ignition and they must be tightly sealed to protect them from rainwater.
  • It is important to not mix used oil with other fluids such as antifreeze, transmission fluid, petrol, diesel etc. Mixing them may make them non-recyclable as well as very hazardous and flammable.
Proper removal of used oil

Contact a ROSE registered used oil collector who will come and take away your used oil for responsible recycling. Visit the ROSE Foundation website on, send an email to or call 021 448 7492 to find out who your nearest collector is.

“Current irresponsible farming practices pose great threats to human health and the environment. We all share the responsibility of protecting our environment and keeping our waters safe. It is ironic that in a water-poor country such as South Africa, the very sector that relies on clean, fresh water the most is unknowingly poisoning it! However, it is never too late to change the way things are done and through combined efforts and energy, we can make a marked difference in the operating practices of many farms throughout SA.”

“Recycling used oil allows us to continue to enjoy what many of us take for granted every day – clean, potable water,” concludes Nyiba.