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Storage and Disposal of Oily Rags

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Recycled rags provide workshops and garages with an affordable means of cleaning up service fluids and water oil from floors and machinery.

Of course, it makes economic sense for garages to use rags to clean up minor oil spillages – unlike tissue, rags can soak minor oil spillages almost effortlessly. And the rags can often be re-used for a time.

It is worth noting, however, that oily rags are classed as hazardous materials. The European Commission has confirmed that all waste oils (with the exception of edible oils), are “absolute hazardous” entries on the Waste Framework Directive’s “List of Waste” document.

Keeping Your Business Compliant

To ensure that your business remains compliant with EU regulations, all wastes contaminated with oil, including rags used to mop up fuel spillages, must be safely stored before being disposed of by an accredited hazardous wastes contractor. Note that if a business opts to transfer its own waste to a disposal site, then it can only do so if it is a registered waste carrier.

Storing Oily Rags Safely

Oil is of course a highly flammable liquid, and oil-soaked rags pose a huge fire risk. To minimise the risk of fire, all flammable materials should be stored in a separate, metal container used solely for the purpose of storing oily rags. Ideally the container should boast a heavy, hinged lid to minimise the risk of combustion. In the event of combustion, the lid can be sealed to smother the fire.

Note that you must NEVER mix waste oil with other oil types – doing so is not only dangerous, but will also class the load as special hazardous waste, which will make disposal of it more expensive. Keep all rags used for mopping up specific fuel types in their own separate, metal storage containers.

Cleaning Oily Rags

Never attempt put oil-soaked rags straight into a washing machine. Doing so could not only damage the machine’s motor, but the fumes may escape and potentially cause a fire, particularly as the washing machine’s motor heats up.

Instead, rags with minimal amounts of oil can be cleaned by soaking them in a large bucket of water mixed with a non-toxic, biodegradable all-purpose cleaner. After cleaning them, assess how much oil is left on the rag and determine if you can dry them for re-use: rags that are simply too oily to clean should be disposed of in compliance with EU regulations.

For more exhaustive documentation on storing and disposing of workshop rags, refer to the Environment Agency’s section on Assessing Specific Waste Types

Other Useful Links:

Waste Segregation, Packaging & Disposal

A Guide to the Hazardous Waste Regulations

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