The dangers of used oil on farms

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

Unsustainable practices

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, as a dust suppressant on farm roads or as a livestock dip, allowing hazardous products to seep into the ground, contaminate the soil, and possibly seep into water tables, rivers and dams, where it is withdrawn as irrigation or drinking water.

“Conversion to more sustainable agricultural practices is necessary to preserve South Africa’s biodiversity and to ensure the availability of resources in future,” 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 oil and related waste in Southern Africa.

“Global environmental concern is growing, and the implementation of the National Environmental Management: Waste Act2008 (Act 59 of 2008 or the Waste Management Act) introduces extended producer responsibility, which places the onus on all South African businesses, including farms, to minimise, re-use, recycle and treat their waste or dispose of it as a last resort.”

Waste removal requirements

Bubele explains that the Waste Management Act requires a holder of waste to 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 it 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, 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 collect and store their used oil for responsible collection by a registered ROSE used oil collector who will remove it to be recycled in an environmentally compliant and safe manner,” Bubele says.

Proper collection and storage

Used oil must be drained into a clean container with a tight-fitting lid, such as a reusable combination drain pan or storage container. A specially designed plastic ROSE sumpy container can also be used to collect used oil. These containers are available from most spares shops, garages and supermarkets.

  • Ensure that used oil is stored in a container with a secure lid so that it cannot spill. 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 the used oil will be contained in the event of a spill or leak.
  • Containers that hold used oil should ideally be stored under cover and away from heat or sources of ignition and must be tightly sealed to protect it from rainwater.
  • It is important not to mix used oil with other fluids such as antifreeze, transmission fluid, petrol and diesel. Mixing them may make them non-recyclable as well as hazardous and flammable.

Responsible disposal of used oil

“Irresponsible farming practices pose a threat to human health and the environment. We all share the responsibility of protecting the environment and keeping water 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. Recycling used oil allows us to continue to enjoy what many of us take for granted every day – clean, potable water,” Bubele concludes. – Press release, ROSE Foundation

For more information or to find your nearest collector, phone 021 448 7492, send an email to or visit the ROSE Foundation website at