Creating new pathways for the management and disposal of used oil

The proper management of used oil is a significant issue for small island nations in the Pacific region. Used oil is often simply dumped, used for ground marking of sports fields by schools and villages, or used as a timber preservative or for dust suppression on roads.

When used oil is not disposed of correctly, it can enter the environment and have a devastating impact on local drinking water purity, food resources and local aquatic ecosystems.

With stockpiles of used oil reaching critical volume in some locations, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) have been exploring the possibility of using used oil as a supplementary fuel source for electrical generation in the short-medium term.

used oil
When used oil is dumped, it can have a devastating impact on the environment.

At the recent third steering committee meeting of the GEF-funded Pacific POPs Release Reduction project, SPREP's Hazardous Waste Adviser, Dr Frank Griffin, reported to the meeting on the preliminary findings of a used oil diesel extender study which was commissioned by the project and undertaken by the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia.

The study aims to establish the feasibility of mixing small quantities of used oil into diesel fuel as an extender. Dr Griffin explains that no studies had previously been undertaken on the impact of use of used oil in diesel fuel:

"Preliminary findings from the study have shown that the addition of used oil appears to have no impact on emissions of dioxins and furans, and in instances where both used oil and coconut oil are added, emissions may in fact be reduced."

Field tests are currently being organised to test whether the lab results can be replicated in the field. The final findings of the study are expected to be available later this year.

Ms Patricia Pedrus, Sustainable Development Planner in the Environment and Sustainable Development Division of the Government of the Federated States of Micronesia, Office of Environment and Emergency Management, explains that used oil is a major problem in her home state:

"On the island of Pohnpei we have one rehabilitated dumpsite that accepts used oil from the shipyard that is located nearby. This is a very important service because it prevents the waste oil from being dumped. Unfortunately though, the dumpsite has accumulated a huge volume of drums, some of which have started to leak due to age. With the cost of shipping used oil being so expensive, the possibility of reducing this stockpile by using the oil as a diesel extender, would at least help to reduce the volume in the short term."

Pictured above: Ms Patricia Pedrus, Sustainable Development Planner in the Environment and Sustainable Development Division of the Government of the Federated States of Micronesia. Photo: A.Carvan/SPREP

Mr Kevin Helps (PhD), GEF Portfolio Manager for UNEP, notes that the problem of used oil management is a major risk to the fragile environment of the Pacific:

"The UNEP/GEF project is working with SPREP and participating countries to develop a regional approach to solving this issue and at the same time providing the necessary resources to reduce the impacts of this waste at high risk locations like the example above."

Dr Griffin stresses that any diesel extender solution would only a short-term stop gap measure, and that as small island nations increasingly utilise solar power for electricity generation, used oil will have to be eventually exported to environmentally sound recycling facilities in New Zealand, Australia, Fiji or India for disposal:

"SPREP will, of course, continue to assist Pacific countries to manage used oil by helping to supply collection and storage tanks to hold used oil under this project and by providing technical advice and assistance to allow countries to implement their own user pays used oil management systems."

The Pacific POPs Release Reduction Project aims to reduce Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in the Pacific region through the improved management of solid and hazardous waste.

The project is co-funded through the Global Environment Facility - Pacific Alliance for Sustainability (GEF-PAS) and Agence Française de Développement (AFD). It is executed by SPREP and implemented by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in close cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

For more information, please contact Dr Frank Griffin on

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