Skip to main content

Recycling motor oil, oil filters and other automotive products

In Wisconsin, motor oil and used oil filters are banned from landfills.

Motor oil and automotive products

Environmental impacts of motor oil and other automotive products

Potential environmental impacts of motor oil, antifreeze, parts cleaners, lubricants, waxes, transmission fluids and other automotive products depend on the ingredients in the products you are using. Many automotive products may be toxic or flammable, so you must take proper precautions when handling. Products may pollute groundwater or surface water if disposed of improperly (i.e., poured down drains or sewers).

Too valuable to waste

Always try to use up motor oil. Oil never wears out and can be recycled. Recycling oil absorbents and used oil filters prevents pollution and recovers more than 1.8 million gallons of oil and more than 4.8 million pounds of steel annually in Wisconsin.

Legal requirements for managing used motor oil

Because used oil is easily recyclable, it is illegal to dispose of used oil in a licensed landfill or incinerate it without energy recovery (s. 287.07 (1m), Wis. Stat.).

Wisconsin's hazardous waste laws regulate the management of used oil. Household automotive waste is excluded from regulation as a hazardous waste under ch. NR 679, Wis. Adm. Code. However, if a household waste is managed separately by a non-household member, such as at a municipal collection site, this exemption no longer applies.

Your local government may have additional legal restrictions on throwing certain materials in the garbage or down the sewer. Homeowners should check with their local recycling program, public works or public health departments to find out about local restrictions.

Preferred handling options: recycle or safely dispose

The best handling options depend on the ingredients in the products you are using and the community in which you live. Read the label for proper disposal techniques and take personal responsibility for determining the appropriate disposal option. When in doubt, ask!

The following resources can help you find local recycling locations:


Oil filters & absorbents

Oil filters and absorbents

State law (s. 287.07(4m), Wis. Stats.) bans landfilling of used oil filters. The ban applies to everyone in the state, including individuals, farmers, businesses, commercial or industrial facilities and other organizations. The law does not exempt any groups or classes of individuals.

Oil absorbent materials were originally included in the landfill ban, but it was later amended to allow landfill disposal provided there is no free-flowing oil in the absorbent material and the absorbents are not hazardous waste.

Used oil filters

The ban specifically covers filters from motor vehicles. These include oil filters from:

  • cars;
  • trucks;
  • buses;
  • motorcycles;
  • snowmobiles;
  • forklifts;
  • boats;
  • planes;
  • trains;
  • tractors; and
  • ATVs and UTVs.

Oil filters from other sources, like hydraulic systems and other machinery, are not covered under this ban, but we encourage them to be recycled as well.

Used oil absorbent materials

Used oil absorbents are defined as materials used to absorb petroleum-derived or synthetic oil that has been used or spilled.

Absorbents include:

  • granular kitty litter-type absorbents;
  • oil-dry cloths;
  • rags;
  • wipes;
  • paper toweling; and
  • absorbent pillows, pads and socks.

Oil absorbent materials may be disposed of in a landfill if the following conditions are met:

  • Waste oil has been drained so that no visible signs of free-flowing oil remain in or on the oil absorbent materials.
  • The oil absorbent materials are not hazardous waste, as defined in s. 289.01(12), Wis. Stats [exit DNR].

Preferred handling option: recycle

Recycling is the preferred method of handling used oil filters. In some areas, there may also be recycling options for oil absorbents, especially in large quantities. Wisconsinites throw away an estimated 187,000 gallons of oil in used oil filters and 1.6 million gallons of oil in oil absorbents. Oil is a valuable, reusable material. Recycling used filters and absorbents preserve oil for reuse.

Used oil filters Used oil absorbents
  • Recycle: Many businesses that perform oil changes or sell oil and oil filters will accept used filters from do-it-yourselfers. In addition, some communities allow used oil and oil filters to be collected at their waste transfer stations or at specific collection sites. Contact your local recycling program for more information.
  • Several recyclers across the state also accept used oil filters for recycling. To find recycling options in your area, see the Wisconsin Recycling Markets Directory [exit DNR]. Select the "Motor Vehicle Items" category on the web page, and then click on the subcategory "oil filters."
  • Use as a fuel supplement in an approved municipal solid waste combustor.
  • Recycle if possible. Some companies that supply clean absorbents will accept those absorbents after they have been used. To find recycling options in your area, see the Wisconsin Recycling Markets Directory [exit DNR]. Select the "Other Materials" category on the web page, and then click on the subcategory "oil filter."
  • Take to a DNR-approved biopile at a landfill.
  • Use as a fuel supplement in an approved municipal solid waste combustor.
  • Dispose of at a landfill if there is no free-flowing oil and the absorbents are not hazardous waste.
  • Cloth absorbents should be reused as long as possible and may be sent to a landfill after being cleaned to established industry standards to remove the oil.