Clean Boater Program

Reducing Hazardous Waste

Hazardous materials are found in many materials used to clean and operate your boat. However, using these products is often more out of habit than necessity. Lead, cadmium, zinc, and mercury are among the heavy metals found in the sediment of Long Island Sound and are difficult to remove. Fuel and used oil contain hydrocarbons and metals that are harmful to aquatic life.

About Hazardous Waste Disposal

The good news is that safer substitutes and methods do exist for many maintenance tasks. Refer to "Washing the Topside of Your Boat" for Non-Toxic Cleaning Alternatives. You need to know how to properly dispose of hazardous waste since it is illegal to improperly dispose of such wastes (e.g. into a dumpster or trash can, on the ground or in the water). Leftover oils and fluids, batteries, antifreeze, paints, varnishes, strippers, thinners, wood preservatives, turpentine, cleaners, pesticides and other chemicals should always be reused or properly disposed of at an appropriate facility. To dispose of hazardous materials, the best thing to do is call your local public works department or recycling coordinator and ask them if they have or participate in a household hazardous waste collection program. For Hazardous Waste assistance, call 888-424-4193 to see if other alternatives might be available. In addition, call your local recycling coordinator, mayor, or first selectman and encourage them to establish a program for your town. You can get more information about household hazardous waste and collection schedules by visiting DEEP’s website.

The discharge of small amounts of oil from the bilge, outboard motors, careless fueling habits and improper disposal of used oil may significantly contribute to pollution. A single quart of oil can cover a water surface of an area equivalent to nearly three football fields. When oil is spilled on the water, the sheen it produces often remains on the surface, where it affects fish, waterfowl, and other aquatic life. Hydrocarbons present in petroleum products and heavy metals in used oil are harmful even in small concentrations.

Oil (black water) discharge into the water is prohibited! The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 mandates that the U.S. Coast Guard impose a $25,000 fine for dumping oil. This does not include clean-up costs. If your boat is over 26' you must display an "Oily Waste Discharge Placard." It’s the law, and a good idea on any size boat. Placards are available at most marine suppliers.

Changing Your Oil

Prevent accidents before they happen. Before you change your oil, put down a drop cloth, a pan, or an oil absorbent product so if you have a spill, it won’t be pumped overboard with the bilge water. Place a plastic bag over the filter before you take it off. It can prevent spills if the filter is accidentally dropped. Be sure that you dispose of the used oil properly. If you don’t want to change your oil yourself, some marinas offer an oil-changing service. Make sure you choose one that recycles the used oil.

Recycle Your Oil

If all the oil used in the U.S. were recycled, we’d save 1.3 million barrels per day! Recycling 100 gallons of used oil saves 65 gallons of virgin oil. Re-refining used oil takes one-third the energy required to refine from crude. To recycle your oil, put it in a clean re-sealable plastic container (a milk jug with a screw-on lid will do). Many of the milk jugs today have snap-on lids that easily pop off if the jug is knocked over, and are not appropriate for storing used oil. Boaters should also be advised to store their containers of used oil indoors, in a secure location away from foot traffic and other physical hazards that might cause a spill. Even better, they can put the container into a 5-gallon bucket or other "secondary containment" in case a leak does occur. It’s important not to mix it with other substances, such as antifreeze, solvents, or fuels to ensure that it is suitable for recycling.

Oil filters are also recyclable. Recover used oil from filters by puncturing the top, draining them into a container, and recycling the drained oil along with the oil from the engine. Ask your marina, community recycling center, or service station about recycling used filters.

Dealing with Spills

Use absorbent pads, pillows, or sheets to separate oil from the bilge water. If the pad is saturated with diesel or oil, check with your marina operator to find out if their trash hauler is approved to accept this material. If so, double-bag and discard in the trash. If not, bring to a local household hazardous waste collection site. It is illegal to use dish detergent for cleaning up fuel or oil spills. Detergents appear to work effectively, but actually cause the oil to break up and sink into the water where it can harm marine organisms. Use absorbent pads instead.

A Note about Graywater

Graywater includes soaps and detergents from boat showers, dishwashing and laundry. These soaps, even those labeled as "biodegradable," are substances that might be harmful to marine life.

Ways to Reduce Graywater
  • Use shore side showers whenever available.
  • Use low nitrogen and phosphorous detergents on-board.
  • Use all soaps and cleaners sparingly.
Tips for Reducing Hazardous Waste
  • Properly winterizing your boat will reduce pollution and save you money. See your marina staff or refer to your owner’s manual.
  • If you use antifreeze, be sure to use non-toxic, propylene glycol. Be sure to use the orange-pink colored propylene antifreeze, which is non-toxic rather than the blue-green colored ethylene glycol, which is harmful to marine life.
  • Use oil absorbent pads in the bilge. Consider installing a bilge oil filter or oil/ water separator in your bilge discharge line.
  • Install a manual override switch on the bilge pump.
  • Keep some absorbent pillows, designed for use in bilges, on board. The best ones are made of natural feathers, are non-toxic to marine life, and can be reused.
Content Last Updated on December 26, 2019.