Monday, November 10 | 4:21 p.m.


Bill Briggs lives by the axiom that one person’s trash is another’s treasure.

Before “going green” became fashionable and recycling was a household word, Briggs collected dirty motor oil, filters, lubricants and coolant from factories, auto repair shops and quick lube centers. He re-refines the material and sells the refined products, often to his original suppliers.

For Briggs, it isn’t just about the money. He wants to lessen our dependence on foreign oil, and he believes disposing of oil and metals in our landfills pollutes the environment and wastes resources that America needs.

While people can no longer dump used motor oil down storm drains, the Filter Manufacturers Council estimates that only half of all oil filters are recycled. The rest, along with oily rags, are tossed in the trash each day and end up in garbage dumps.

That’s why Briggs purchased a fleet of tankers in 1984 and started Oil Re-Refining Co. (ORRCO). An Oregon native, he gave up a solid 17-year career with Chevron to start his company in northeast Portland’s industrial section.

His risk paid off, and now the 73 year-old entrepreneur operates in seven western states, with re-refining plants in Portland, Klamath Falls, Reno, Salt Lake City, Billings and Great Falls.

His company provides 55-gallon drums to lube centers and repair shops to discard their used oil filters. When the drums are full, Briggs picks them up and leaves empty containers behind. According to ORRCO data, the average 55 gallon drum contains 250 filters which, when recycled, produce nine gallons of oil and 166 pounds of steel. Each used filter contains about five-eighths cup of oil, enough to contaminate 36,000 gallons of water if inappropriately handled. Once the oil is removed, the steel filters are crushed and sold as scrap.

“I have one goal,” says Briggs. “Keep as much as we can out of landfills and reuse everything we can.”

In the process, he keeps pollutants out of our water. In fact on his company Web site, there is a photo of a Great Blue Heron with the statement, “One gallon of oil spilled can contaminate 100,000 gallons of water.”

Briggs lives by that mantra, and his business reflects his environmental principles. Some of his facilities are built on recovered Super Fund sites, he “scrubs” the air at his processing plants, and by using waste oil to power his operations, his facilities are nearly energy self-sufficient. He cleans and reuses his process water, and nothing harmful is dumped or allowed to seep into the ground.

In addition to recycling machine coolant, motor oil and used oil filters, Briggs collects wastewater, gasoline, emulsified wastewater and other oily solids, heavy bunker fuels, plastic oil bottles and barrels, asphalt, tires, antifreeze – even animal fats and the sludge from grease traps.

Those products are run through distillers, boilers, filters, traps and extruders at ORRCO’s processing plants and emerge as “good as new” products. In some instances, Briggs believes they are better than new. The gunk is then reprocessed into asphalt to pave our roads.
Just the beginning
Despite his considerable success, Bill Briggs says he’s just getting started. ORRCO is also a leader in biodiesel production and ships its re-refined fuel to Chevron.

In addition, Briggs is a pioneer in developing “renewable diesel” which relies on animal fats and spent cooking oils from restaurants.

In the future, Briggs also wants to find a way to strip petroleum products out of cars and trucks headed for the junk yard. He points out that everything from the dashboard to tires starts with crude oil and can be reused instead of wasted.

“One of these days we’ll be mining our landfills to recover those materials,” says Briggs. “Why not save the time and energy up front to re-refine it?”

While some states are rushing to impose regulations and mandates, we should focus instead on encouraging innovative entrepreneurs like Bill Briggs.

After all, he has the right idea: Educate business owners and motorists about the importance of recycling petroleum waste and oil filters and provide them with a convenient, and affordable way to change the world for the better.

Don Brunell is president of the Association of Washington Business, Washington state’s chamber of commerce. Visit

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