How the Rose Foundation supports the recycling of used oil in SA

‘Primarily this is about preventing damage to the environment because oil contains some substances that can be harmful,’ Bubele Nyiba, CEO of the Rose Foundation.

JEANETTE CLARK: The Rose Foundation is a national non-profit organisation established in 1994 by the major players in the lubricants industry in South Africa to promote and encourage the environmentally responsible management of used motor oil and related waste in South Africa. The organisation’s vision is to ensure that all available used lubricating oil and related waste is collected, recycled and managed in an environmentally responsible manner. Despite the pandemic in 2020, Rose recorded the second-highest collected used oil volumes since its formation.

Joining us today is Bubele Nyiba, the CEO of the Rose Foundation. Bubele, can you tell us about the Rose Foundation and what exactly it does to support the recycling of used oil in South Africa?

BUBELE NYIBA: Yes, thank you for this opportunity. The Rose Foundation, as you said in your intro, ensures that oil is collected, stored and recycled properly. So our function is to support that, to put a mechanism in place to make sure that that happens and that all the collectors are credited properly, that their vehicles properly comply with the law, that people that touch the oil are properly trained, they know what to do, and that they pick up oil [take it] to properly appointed places, and that there’s line of sight about every litre of oil that is available in South Africa.

JEANETTE CLARK: Unfortunately it is a fact that the oil often ends up either in landfills or down drains. I’ve seen also that unrecycled oil is used in oil generators or it’s sold to unlicensed processors. Some of the uses even include using it for burner fuel, painted onto vineyard fence poles, etc. Why is this a problem? What are the contamination risks of using used lubricating oil in that way?

BUBELE NYIBA: Well, the primary function of trying to do this correctly is to prevent the oil from getting into the environment, getting into our soil and damaging the soil and also seeping into water sources. One litre of oil can contaminate a million litres of water. So primarily this is about preventing damage to the environment because oil contains substances that can be harmful to the environment and to human use and plants.

JEANETTE CLARK: How much of our used lubricant oil is recycled currently? Is it a massive problem in South Africa?

BUBELE NYIBA: Well, … even though there are the isolated cases of oil not being handled properly, the good news is that the oil in South Africa is recycled properly and so much so that actually we are experiencing a shortage of used oil in South Africa, and we in fact import used oil from neighbouring countries – so oil from Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia and up here – because there’s just [such a] need for it and uses that we deploy that used oil to. It has been become a commodity in South Africa for other things. So in maybe a few instances there’s a little bit of lack of knowledge about what [can be done with used oil]. But in the majority of cases, there is a commercially-viable activity happening around this oil and therefore people do not throw it away. They keep it and they sell it and they make a little bit of money out of [it].

JEANETTE CLARK: What is our government doing to enforce the recycling of used oil in South Africa?

BUBELE NYIBA: Well, the good news is that as of 2020 the government has issued regulations [that] they call ‘extended producer responsibility regulations’, and those regulations have now been formally promulgated for the packaging industry, for the lighting and and electronic industry and used oil is now next …. So currently, as you said in your intro, this whole initiative has been voluntary, but soon it’ll become compulsory for every user of oil to comply with certain laws. So it’s not illegal for people not to report the oil to the Rose Foundation or to take it to someone who’s not registered with the Rose Foundation right now, but soon it will be.

So the the law is catching up and by the end of this year that law will be in place and it’ll become a crime to dispose of oil, [punishable with] an imprisonment term of 15 years.

JEANETTE CLARK: And I think what’s important is to note is that this is for all oil users, it’s not just big industry. It will be compulsory and also be regulated by law for smaller users as well. Can you maybe outline in a nutshell what these generators of used oil need to do? What do they have to comply with to ensure that they will be within the law once it does become compulsory?

BUBELE NYIBA: Well, the first step is proper storage. So when oil is taken out of vehicles and machines, it needs to be stored properly, it needs to be sealed off properly, it needs to be placed in an area that is covered. So [what is] primary at the very beginning is proper storage. Once it’s stored properly, it can be collected, and if someone has got oil that they need to be taken off their premises, then they can contact the Rose Foundation to have it collected. We have a collector base of about 300 collectors nationwide, [so] that in every province and in every town there is a collector that is nearby that can come and collect the oil in different places. And in certain cases, for individuals that just maybe have five litres of oil at home, they can go to AutoZone stores. Certain AutoZone stores can accept oil from the public and, if not, most if not all workshops will accept a few drops of oil sitting in people’s garages. But the most important thing is initially that it’s stored, it’s not thrown away, it’s stored properly and after that can then be taken to the right places.

JEANETTE CLARK: You mentioned that at this point in time we actually import used oil from our neighbours. Does this mean, also with the legislation coming into place, that there is actually an opportunity for more collectors and processors to come on board?

BUBELE NYIBA: Well, there are opportunities for people to enter into the industry because, as I say, there is just so much that we need in the country in terms of the amount of oil; we just don’t have enough. So to the extent that someone can find another source elsewhere, and they can bring that oil into the country – of course following the right legal processes, getting the right permits, because it is a hazardous waste. So you do need to get special permits to get it over the border. But once that paperwork is in place, people are free to do so and there are enough processors in the country to handle the oil. There is suddenly no shortage of processors everywhere. We have got 19 accredited processors with the Rose Foundation, and all of those are capable and they have enough capacity to handle double the volumes that they are handling now.

JEANETTE CLARK: So if I am an oil user and I’d like to dispose of this appropriately, where can I find out if a collector and a processor is licensed by the Rose Foundation?

BUBELE NYIBA: Well, before we used to list everybody on the Rose website and put up their names and their contact details and the email addresses, but [with] the Protection of Private Information Act, we’ve had to protect our collectors because unfortunately in the past we’ve had people, you know, criminal elements targeting those databases, trying to defraud people and claim that they have oil and they want a deposit and losing money …. So now if you want to get hold of someone, all you have to do is to contact the Rose Foundation office on 021 448 7492, and we’ll be able to guide you. You just need to tell us where you are and we’ll tell you who the collector is nearest to you.

JEANETTE CLARK: Bubele, we’ve been speaking about recycling, but does South Africa also have the capacity to re-refine oil?

BUBELE NYIBA: Maybe I can just explain the difference between recycling and re-refining. Re-refining is when the oil is recycled back to each original state. So, from oil to oil; in other words that five litres that came out of a vehicle is cleaned up so much so that it can actually go back into the vehicle. In the recycling space, normally used oil is not recycled back to base oil, but it is used as a fuel in very different applications. Interestingly, some of the applications, some of the smaller ones, [are] used in the printing industry, so that every newspaper that you will read in this country has got used oil in it, because what they do is that they mix the black ink with oil so that it has got that little bit of a glossy feel to it and the black ink doesn’t come out of the paper.

So [there are] very many uses in the sort of recycling space, but in the refining space it’s actually very exciting because there it goes back to almost end up where it started as a base oil.

JEANETTE CLARK: Bubele, can you just tell us what the capacity is that we have in South Africa for re-refining?

BUBELE NYIBA: We have three plants in South Africa that re-refine oil back to base oil. So we’ve got a plant in Pietermaritzburg that does so in the case of KZN Province, and … we’ve got two plants in Gauteng: one in Meyerton and the other one in Pretoria. So we’ve got ample capacity in South Africa to re-refine that base oil.

JEANETTE CLARK: Thank you, Bubele. Now let’s hope that lubricant oil users take up the call so that as a country we can make sure all of our used oil is being recycled or re-refined and none of it wasted.

That was Bubele Nyiba, the CEO of the Rose Foundation.

Brought to you by the Rose Foundation.

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