How to Recycle Empty Oil Containers

Three Parts:Recycling the ContainerDisposing of Your OilDealing With Motor Oil

Recycling is an important way to prevent trash from accumulating in landfills. While motor oil containers are not recyclable, cooking oil containers are.[1] Clean your container thoroughly before attempting to recycle it. Check with local restaurants and waste authorities for locations where you can recycle excess cooking oil. Finally, take your container to a recycling center or arrange for pickup.

Part 1
Recycling the Container

  1. Image titled Recycle Empty Oil Containers Step 1
    Clean the container. Depending on where you live, you may or may not need to rinse your container out.[2] If you do, turn the container upside down over a disposable napkin and let excess oil drain out. Dispose of the napkin in the trash. When oil has stopped dripping out of the bottle, fill it with hot water and a bit of liquid soap, replace the cap, and shake it several times. Empty the soapy water in your sink.
  2. Image titled Recycle Empty Oil Containers Step 2
    Locate a recycling center or program near you. There are two basic options for recycling: drop-off centers and pick-up services. You’ll probably have to pay for pick-up service, but you’ll save time and won’t have to make a trip to a recycling center.
  3. Image titled Recycle Empty Oil Containers Step 3
    Check with your local recycling program to see if your empty oil containers are accepted. First, identify what type of plastic your oil container is by looking on the bottom or side of the container. Locate the number inside the recycling triangle.[3] Then, contact your local recycling program and ask for details about recycling containers of this type.
    • Many recycling programs offer explicit lists of what they accept and do not accept on their websites.
    • Most oil bottles are made from clear number one plastic. This is the most common kind of plastic, and empty oil containers are usually accepted along with the rest of your recyclable plastic and other materials.
  4. Image titled Recycle Empty Oil Containers Step 4
    Drop off or await pickup for your recyclables. Pick-up services operate just like municipal trash collection does: a truck will come by on a designated day, usually once each week, and collect your recycling in a bin. The bin is usually provided by the collector, but there might be a small fee.[4] Drop-off locations require you to load up your empty oil containers and other recycling materials and drop them in the appropriate bin. For instance, there might be a bin for number one and two plastics, another bin for paper and cardboard, and another bin for glass.
    • If you’re dropping off your recyclables, you’ll save time if you sort everything according to the categories of recyclables accepted at your recycling center. For instance, you might have one bin for newspaper and junk mail, another for clear glass, another for colored glass, another for number one and two plastic, and another for all other types of plastic.
    • Pickup services are typically single-stream. In other words, there is no need to sort glass, plastic, and paper into separate bins. Instead, drop all your recyclables into a single bin and place it in a location where the the recycling service can access it (usually near the foot of your driveway).
  5. Image titled Recycle Empty Oil Containers Step 5
    Repurpose the empty oil containers if possible. An even more ecologically friendly option for handling your empty oil containers is reusing them. For example, you can cut the tops from the oil containers and use them to organize tools and hardware in your garage. You could also cut a clean oil bottle lengthwise, fill it with dirt, and use it as a starter bed for small plants.[5]
    • Make sure not to store anything that would be harmed by exposure to the oil residue.

Part 2
Disposing of Your Oil

  1. Image titled Recycle Empty Oil Containers Step 6
    Place your used oil in an appropriate container. Add your oil to a large, sealable container. A plastic jug or glass flour container with a volume of about one gallon are good choices.
    • If your oil has solidified, throw the solid mass in the trash. Wipe the remainder out of the pan with a napkin and throw it out as well.[6]
    • The number of times you can reuse your oil depends on a number of factors, including the type of oil, the temperature you cook at, and the way you use it.[7] For instance, cooking oil at a temperature above 375 degree Fahrenheit can lead to the accumulation of HNE, a toxic substance that can lead to negatively impact your health.[8]
  2. Image titled Recycle Empty Oil Containers Step 7
    Find an oil collection location. Contact local restaurants to see if they recycle oil. If so, ask if you can drop your used cooking oil off at the restaurant for collection.[9] Other locations you can investigate for the presence of oil recycling services include private waste collectors, government waste departments (for instance, your local municipal waste department), and your local Environmental Protection Agency.
    • Once you’ve located an appropriate agency or location, ask for delivery guidelines and bring your waste to the appropriate drop-off point.
  3. Image titled Recycle Empty Oil Containers Step 8
    Do not pour oil down the drain.[10] If you poor oil down the drain, you might clog your pipes. Even if your own pipes don’t end up clogged, you’ll be contributing to the congestion of your local sewer system. In high-density areas, especially, this can cause real problems.
    • Wipe greasy pans and plates off with disposable napkins before washing them in the sink. Throw the napkins in the trash.
    • If you accidentally pour oil down the drain, pour a couple cups of boiling water in after it.[11] Add a spoonful of vinegar and baking soda to the water to make it even more effective.
  4. Image titled Recycle Empty Oil Containers Step 9
    Do not try to compost your oil. Most compost piles do not get hot enough to break down fatty oils. Keep oil and greasy or fried foods out of your compost pile or you might end up with rot in your compost.[12]
  5. Image titled Recycle Empty Oil Containers Step 10
    Make fuel with your used cooking oil. Vegetable oil -- along with animal fats -- can be used to create a renewable fuel that burns cleaner than fossil fuels.[13] Depending on the kind of engine you’re using, you might need to mix your oil with regular gasoline to create biodiesel. Alternately, you might be able to convert your engine and feed it straight vegetable oil. Contact your local university or auto shop and inquire about how you can incorporate used vegetable oil into your vehicle.

Part 3
Dealing With Motor Oil

  1. Image titled Recycle Empty Oil Containers Step 11
    Contact your local trash service. Ask your local trash service about options for disposing of your motor oil. Your local service might be a private waste collector or a government waste department (for instance, your local municipal waste department). You could also contact your and your local Environmental Protection Agency.
    • Once you’ve located an appropriate agency or location, ask for delivery guidelines and bring your waste to the appropriate drop-off point.
    • Some municipalities allow oil to be placed in clear, sealed containers for pickup along with the rest of the garbage.[14]
    • In some places, you might have to drop your old motor oil off.[15]
  2. Image titled Recycle Empty Oil Containers Step 12
    Contact your local auto shop. Many auto shops (especially oil change shops) offer used motor oil collection services.[16] Check several shops if the first one you ask does not accept old motor oil. Once you locate a nearby shop that accepts used motor oil, ask them how they want it packaged.
    • These shops then sell the used oil to refineries so that it can be used again.[17]
  3. Image titled Recycle Empty Oil Containers Step 13
    Dispose of motor oil properly. Once you’ve located a site or program that will accept your used motor oil, follow the appropriate directions to ensure it arrives safely to where it needs to go. Whether you drop the oil off or arrange for pickup, place it in a container of an appropriate type. Usually, you will need to place your used motor oil in a clear, sealable container like a used milk jug.
    • Do not pour oil down a sewer or in the gutter, and do not pour it onto empty land. Oil that is improperly disposed of can poison aquifers and groundwater.[18]


  • If you must drive out of your way to recycle your oil containers, consider saving them up and recycling them in batches. This will save you time and fuel for your vehicle.
  • Oily residue left in oil containers may make them unsuitable for many recycling programs.
  • Change your motor oil only as needed. Some cars requires an oil change every 3,000 miles (5,000 km), while others require a change only at 7,500 miles (12,000 km) or more.[19]


  • Do not attempt to recycle motor oil containers. These are not recyclable and must be disposed of in the trash.[20]
  • Be careful not to improperly dispose of your used motor oil after an oil change. Motor oil poses a far bigger risk of environmental contamination than empty plastic bottles, and it can be recycled into heating fuel or even fresh motor oil. Take used motor oil to an oil-change shop that accepts it.

Article Info

Categories: Reduce Recycle and Reuse