Compare Industrial Oil Absorbents
Reusable vs. Recycle vs. Disposable vs. Clay
How do you handle leaking oil in your manufacturing facility? The three R’s of sustainability are to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
Reducing the amount of oil that leaks from a machine is the optimal sustainable solution. In the case where source reduction is not viable, the oil must be stopped at the source with an absorbent material.
Choosing an Absorbent Material
There are many oil absorbent options available – reusable absorbents, recycled absorbents, disposable absorbents, clay pellets, cardboard, sawdust, etc. The purpose of the absorbent is to help prevent slips and falls from happening on the production floor.
But what happens when the absorbent becomes fully saturated? Do you reuse it, recycle it, or discard it? Let’s take a closer look at these options.
Reusable Absorbents: Reuse is to use an item again after it has been used. Reusable absorbents go through a closed loop laundering process where the recovered oils are recycled and the absorbents are cleaned and used again and again for absorbing oil. Reusable absorbents are a Zero Waste to Landfill solution.
Recycled Absorbents: Even though reuse and recycling often get used interchangeably, a recycled absorbent is quite different from a reusable absorbent. Recycling is the reprocessing of an item into a new raw material. Recycled absorbents are typically made of clay or polypropylene material. With an absorbent recycling service, a waste stream still exists. Products do not return to the customer for reuse, but instead are recycled and made into different products. Sometimes, only a small portion is actually recycled.
Disposable Absorbents: Disposable absorbents fall on the bottom of the sustainability pyramid. In the case of disposable absorbents, the soiled absorbents go directly from a customer’s facility into the landfill, waste-to-energy, or incineration. For more on these options, check out our blog article: How to Dispose of Used Rags and Oil Absorbents.
Clay Pellets: Clay pellets or kitty litter can be quite inexpensive. However, they are not porous, so they don’t actually absorb the liquid. In addition, they also contain crystalline silica, which can cause respiratory problems from extended exposure. Clay pellets can also be cumbersome to clean up.
Oil Absorbent Comparison Charts
In choosing the right absorbent for your facility, you should consider absorbency, durability, sustainability, cost, and labor. Below are some quick comparisons.
Absorbency and Durability
SorbIts® are 2-3 times more absorbent than disposables because they are designed to withstand industrial laundering. Clay, or kitty litter is not actually absorbent – it’s adsorbent. The difference is that with adsorption, the liquid forms a layer on the outside of the surface instead of moving inside an object.
Resue is the most sustainable option, as it’s a true Zero Waste to Landfill solution. Recycled absorbents still generate a waste, and typically only a portion of the absorbent is recycled or made from recycled material. While incineration is preferred to landfill, incineration still generates emissions and waste.
Clay pellets (oil dry, kitty litter, etc) are the most inexpensive to purchase, but they come with hidden costs – the labor-intensive job of cleanup, the risk of causing long-term employee respiratory problems, and the environmental cost of sending the pellets to landfill.
Reusable absorbents may initially seem more expensive than disposables because they have service costs built into their program for ongoing pick-up, delivery, and laundering. But when you take into account the factors listed below, the cost scale shifts in favor of reusable absorbents.
- Disposal costs: Special waste handling for single use absorbents can range anywhere from $30 a drum to upwards of $275. Incineration typically starts at $80 a drum, and goes up from there. The variance is due primarily to geography.
- Absorbency: Reusable absorbents are extremely durable and absorb more fluid volume because they are designed to withstand industrial laundering. In absorbency testing, they absorb 2-3 times more than disposables, requiring significantly fewer absorbents to get the job done.
To demonstrate the cost difference, ITU AbsorbTech developed the SorbIts® Savings Calculator.
Labor and absorbency go hand in hand. The more absorbent the product is, the fewer times your employees need to change them out. Other factors to consider are time spent purchasing and managing your absorbent inventory. With the SorbIts®, this service is included with the program.
Reusable absorbents outperform disposables, recycled absorbents, and clay in every category, with the exception of clay being cheaper to purchase. Depending on your labor costs, however, the product/disposal cost plus labor cost for clay may actually tip the scale, making reusable absorbents the lowest cost option.
At the end of the day, all of these options do a fair job of preventing slips and spills. If you are conducting a 5S or lean project, you are looking to reduce facility costs, or you want to reduce your landfill liability, consider a reusable oil absorbent solution for your leaks, drips, and spills.