VENTURA, Calif.-All that used oil dutifully drained by do-it-yourselfers from their vehicles has got to go someplace. One place it's less likely to end up is in a California landfill or poured down a drain, thanks to a just-inaugurated waste oil disposal program for consumers.
At the end of June, Parnelli Jones Inc., which operates 50 outlets in California, became the first retail chain there to participate in what the state hopes will become a statewide waste oil collection program in retail service shops.
The company-one of the country's largest independent tire dealerships-merged late last year with Dob's Tire and Auto Centers. It also has 40 outlets located in New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, Kansas and Missouri.
The California Integrated Waste Management Board is urging retailers to participate in the disposal program, calling illegal dumping of used oil from autos a serious environmental problem. Its chairman, Jesse R. Huff, praised Parnelli Jones for its willingness to collect oil and ensure its reprocessing.
David Witten, Parnelli Jones' chief operating officer, said participation in the program ``sounded like a good public service for us...and we have the capacity to be able to collect the oil.''
Dealership executives anticipate collecting about 50 gallons of used oil per month at each store, for a total of 30,000 gallons annually. They also made a commitment to recycle most of their outlets' waste streams, including oil filters, solvent, rags, tires and batteries.
Customers dropping off used oil are paid 16 cents per gallon and Parnelli Jones, in turn, is reimbursed that amount by the state.
The company will continue to use Evergreen Oil Inc., a used oil collector and re-refiner with a reputation on the West Coast as a ``model'' company for its efforts to clean up the environment.
Mr. Witten said Parnelli Jones ``made a commitment at the corporate level because we're environmentally concerned, and because we do not want to see do-it-yourself guys dumping oil down the sewer.''
EnviroCom, an Anaheim, Calif.-based environmental consulting firm that has advised Parnelli Jones in the past, alerted it to the state's search for business participation in the program. Until the dealership came on board, only a few small companies and state businesses had implemented similar services in limited areas.
``Used oil seems innocuous to most people, but it's probably the leading cause of groundwater contamination,'' explained William B. Anderson, EnviroCom president.
He estimated that a single quart of oil can contaminate 250,000 gallons of ground water. Once fouled, the water is virtually undrinkable because standard treatment facilities cannot remove all chemicals contained in the oil, including lead and benzene, he said.
California is notorious for enacting and enforcing strict regulations aimed at preserving the environment. Although Parnelli Jones is doing its part in that area, Mr. Witten admitted ``the state doesn't make anything easy-even when you do something like this, you've got to jump through hoops.''
A quagmire of rules and regulations are involved, and while the state will not conduct inspections of Parnelli Jones' facilities, it still requires that extensive paperwork be filled out. That's why, Mr. Witten said, ``we need a company like Evergreen, which has a lot of credibility in the state.''
He called the new program a ``bookkeeping nightmare.'' Each outlet must record on a manifest when and how many gallons of oil are picked up for recycling. But he believes the state may soon accept one claim form for the company, rather than require one per store.
People dropping off oil after hours or leaving contaminated oil are two concerns Mr. Witten has about the program, but ``so far it's worked out great. We haven't had any problems. And consumers seem to be appreciative of a place to take their oil.''
The dealership may even be able to parlay the program into some additional business.
``If a do-it-yourselfer brings in oil to dispose of, we'll say, `By the way, when it's time for your next oil change, we have a $12.95 special. Why not let us do it for you?'*'' Mr. Witten said. ``A little self-promotion doesn't hurt. Some of these guys are tired of getting on their backs to change oil.''
Unofficially, Parnelli Jones also accepts consumers' old batteries, and Mr. Witten wishes the state would begin an antifreeze collection program, because he believes that particular fluid is much more toxic than oil.
Other than press releases announcing the launch of the disposal service, Mr. Witten said little promotion of it is planned, other than to mention it in Parnelli Jones' print advertisements.
Like a number of localities across the country, the dealership's home base of Ventura County recently began a tire and oil recycling program of its own for residents.
``I wish they'd allow me to drop a few off,'' Mr. Witten joked. ``But I don't think they'll believe me if I took in 3,000 cases of oil and told them I just so happened to have them stored in my yard.''