Several locally-owned garages in Vancouver say they've been overwhelmed by the number of people dropping off used motor oil and motor oil products, after several major retailers like Canadian Tire, Mr. Lube and Midas stopped their used oil recycling programs at some locations.
The BC Used Oil Management Association ensures that garages provide drop-off bins for people who change their own motor oil, so that they can safely dispose of the used product.
The oil is then picked up by a company called Terrapure, and recycled.
Alfred Lal, owner of Vancouver West Motors, said ever since retailers shrank their recycling programs, the increase in drop-offs has "swamped" his four-person operation.
"We have limited capacity because we're a small garage, and a lot of times I've had to turn people away saying sorry, the barrel's full," Lai said.
Vancouver West Motors has a 650-litre barrel to store the oil, which is emptied once a week. Lal said desperate customers have begun leaving oil in various types of containers outside his shop after it closes.
Once, Lal encountered a plastic ice-cream bucket filled with used oil.
"Last week, someone left four litres of oil at the door, they just dumped it and walked away."
Consumers in B.C. pay a so-called eco-fee when purchasing oil, which later pays for services like oil recycling. Garages are paid 30 cents for every litre of oil they take back from the public.
Ed Wong, manager at Grandview Tire and Auto Centre, said that his garage has also been affected.
"We've always been an advocate for recycling so I'll gladly take the oil, but it's had a negative impact because we don't have the manpower to manage the amount of oil that's being dropped off at times," Wong said.
"I'll come into work and there will be a whole pile of used oil outside, it's leaking all over the pavement and then I need to go clean that up too."
According to the used oil management association, there are 10 remaining garages in Metro Vancouver that continue to take used oil.
"I think more people need to step up to the plate and offer oil recycling, everybody's got to do their part, " said Wong.
Employees cite leaks
It's not clear why some large retailers have stopped offering to recycle oil, however employees cited environmental dangers stemming from poor consumer practices.
In a statement, a representative for Canadian Tire said that "participation varies from store to store based on their capacity and capability," but would not comment on why some locations stopped the service.
Employees at three Canadian Tire locations said service was halted because people were bringing in oil contaminated with other products.
Canadian Tire's White Rock location continues to offer the service.
A representative for Midas could not be reached for comment, but two employees said they were no longer offering the service because customers were leaving oil on the street in unapproved bins, leading to spills.
A representative for Mr. Lube also could not be reached for comment, but employees at three locations said the city no longer wanted them to offer the service. Mr. Lube's Kingsway location continues to recycle used oil.
The city's Waste Reduction & Recovery Management Team said there had been no policy change or ban regarding Mr. Lube.
After publication, a representative from the city said they had received multiple complaints that spills and leaks at some Canadian Tire and Mr. Lube locations had entered storm sewers, and that they asked the retailers to take measures to prevent further spills.
David Lawes, the executive director of the BC Used Oil Management Association, said he's aware of the increased pressure on small garages, and his organization is working with smaller facilities to increase their infrastructure.
Lal said he's concerned about the long-term impact if people are unable to conveniently dispose of used oil products.
"We're supposed to be a green city and this is supposed to be a forward-thinking province," he said.
"I really hope people don't start dumping it down drains or into the Fraser River."
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that garages are not paid to collect used oil.Nov 23, 2017 12:05 PM PT