Saturday, August 20, 1994

Time to Set the Standard: An Interview with Members of the Filter Manufacturers Council

Greg Griggs, executive secretary of the FMC, and Tim Warren, environmental manger of filters/electronics for a member company of FMC, AlliedSignal Inc., discuss the issue of oil filter recycling with the editors of The Recycling Magnet.

How often should a car’s oil and filter be changed? Once every three months or 3,000 miles. So well-known is this service station litany that it’s even recognized by those who have never owned a vehicle.

With an estimated 123 million passenger cars crisscrossing America’s network of reads, greater attention is being paid to the disposal of used oil filters. In 1992, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ruled that used oil filters are considered solid waste rather than hazardous waste. Since that time, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Texas have introduced more stringent legislation banning the landfilling of used oil filters. Legislation adopted in a fourth state,
California, considers used oil filters hazardous waste unless recycled.

Since it is likely that government regulation of used oil filter management will increase, we wondered what kind of recycling infrastructure presently exists for used oil filters and what is being done to develop it. Undertaking the initiative to develop the infrastructure is the Filter Manufacturers Council (FMC), an organization representing 20 manufacturers of vehicular and industrial filtration products with facilities in the United States. What follows is our interview with Greg Griggs, executive secretary of the FMC, and Tim Warren, environmental manger of filters/electronics for a member company of FMC, AlliedSignal Inc.

With so man service stations and quick oil change centers out there, it seems that the average person rarely comes in contact with oil filters. What are oil filters and are they recyclable?

GG: Nearly every motorized vehicle, from large lawn mowing tractors to automobiles to mining equipment, has an oil filter to remove contaminants and deposits that accumulate in the oil as it circulates through an engine. These filters must be replaced every three months or 3,000 miles to ensure proper functioning. As a result, there are about 400 million used oil filters generated each year in the United States, ranging from small filters about two inches in height for import vehicles to giant filters 17 or 18 inches in height for construction equipment. Fortunately, oil filters are at least 80 percent steel by weight. This steel cartridge or body is what makes the oil filter recyclable. High quality steel is used to make oil filters and, like other steel products, is infinitely recyclable into new steel.

TW: And actually, while the majority of oil filters are commercially installed, about 45 percent of all passenger car filters are sold to consumers who change their own oil. This represents millions of people who have the opportunity to recycle both their used oil and the filter.

What are some of the challenges to developing the used oil filter recycling infrastructure?

TW: Currently, there are no standard specifications for processing used oil filters. Processors use different approaches, ranging from crushing to shredding, to prepare the filter for recycling. In some cases, used oil filters are processed at the generation site and shipped directly to steel mills. In others, the filters are first sent to a secondary processor with specialty equipment, then shipped to end market. Properly processed, oil filters can be a valuable recyclable commodity. Maximizing oil extraction from the filter is the essential processing step.

GG: The whole key here is to determine what form of processed oil filters is most acceptable to steel mills. We are asking the steel companies that supply oil filter manufacturers with steel what level of processing should be performed to best prepare oil filter scrap for recycling. Once we determine what the mills want, we can develop appropriate industry guidelines for oil filter processing.

What kind of recycling infrastructure exists for recycling oil filters?

TW: We are aware of about 700 companies that are possible involved in some level of oil filter recycling. Some of these companies are special processors dealing exclusively with used oil filters. Others are traditional ferrous scrap processors, and still others are recyclers of used oil that also collect filters.

GG: We have created a toll-free hotline/database to encourage the proper management of used oil filters and assist in the development of the oil filter recycling infrastructure. This number, 1-800-99-FILTER (993-4583), is available only to commercial and government generators of used oil filters. The hotline provides callers with information on companies that provide filter management and recycling services as well as summaries of regulations governing the management of used oil filters for the U.S., each of the fifty states, and the Canadian provinces.

How many oil filters are currently being recycled?

GG: Statistics are difficult to obtain because filters enter the solid waste stream in different ways. Some steel mills receive used oil filters with auto shred, and some receive them with the steel recovered from magnetic separation at resource recovery facilities.

TW: We can account for approximately 20 million oil filters that were recycled in 1993, about five percent of all generated. These statistics are derived from mills, such as TAMCO in California, that specifically record how many tons of filters they accept for recycling. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if as many as 20 percent were being recycled right now.

How can recycling coordinators, government officials and others involved in solid waste management help motivate the recycling of oil filters?

TW: Both public and private sector cooperation will be needed to develop an efficient collection system for used oil filters. Certainly, we would like to see government recycling officials become involved in the development of oil filter recycling programs, especially in the area of public education and collection program support. For example, government sponsored recycling programs are already in place in many area for used oil generated by do-it-yourselfers.

GG: Also, it is essential at this stage of infrastructure development that our steel suppliers relay to us their oil filter scrap specifications. Oil filter manufacturers are seeking the responsible disposal of the product they market, as any environmentally-conscious manufacturer should, with recycling being the preferred option.

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