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Used Cooking Oil Wreaks Havoc on Sewers

Words by 3p Contributor
Energy & Environment
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By Robert Conrad

As a former restaurant manager, one issue I had to continually be vigilant about was the proper disposal of cooking oil and cleaning chemicals. As many of my former employees were young people, they didn't quite understand the impact that improper disposal had on restaurant property and, ultimately, the environment. If the problem was not in sight, it was out of mind.

Unfortunately, this resulted in numerous health code violations, one of which included dumping dirty oil directly down sink drains. In fact, a 10-ton lump of congealed fat and wipes was recently discovered in a London sewer, which left nearby residents unable to flush their toilets. The cause of these "fatbergs" was residents dumping their cooking oil down the drain, where it congealed after hitting cold water and simply grew over time. According to The Guardian, this most recent instance was projected to cost the city of London $600,000.

The funny part is that calls to protect the environment are nothing new in England. Notable names throughout history, such as Adam Smith, David Hume and John Stuart Mill, have decried careless practices that can impact the environment negatively. Oily substances improperly disposed of can contaminate groundwater and coat unwitting plants and animals, who then can potentially suffocate from oxygen depletion. The EPA issued a revised rule in 2000 that includes the following changes:


  • Specifies methodology for calculating planning volumes for a worst-case discharge of animal fats and vegetable oils;

  • Separates regulatory sections for animal fats and vegetable oils;

  • Keeps requirements for the same three response planning scenarios (small, medium and worst-case discharge) as in the original FRP rule;

  • Adds new definitions for animal fats and vegetable oils; and

  • Differentiates between classes of oils by establishing new groups of oils termed Group A, B and C, based on the specific gravity of animal fats and vegetable oils.

The new rule regulates the disposal of lard, as well as tallow, corn, rapeseed and soybean oils, all of which are widely used in eating establishments.  Many restaurants have a dedicated vessel where their waste oil is dumped, normally located in a dumpster area that is sloped to a waste drain. Unfortunately, some of these drains also function as a storm drain, which can mean the introduction of cooking oil into the groundwater or cause disease-spreading sewage backups in the restaurant itself.

What's being done now


To encourage proper waste oil disposal, some companies, such as Waste Oil Recyclers and Tri-State Biodiesel, have offered their pickup services and a waste container to store spent oil for free. However, it is up to the restaurant to ensure that there is a proper filtration/transportation system to prevent spills. Further, it's important for restaurant owners to ensure that the area where the container is stored does not contain a storm drain. The focus should be spill prevention during used oil transport, but in the event that spills occur, they should be cleaned up quickly using best practices.

The costs of improper disposal methods are high, with Buncombe County spending $200,000 on sewage repairs and $90,000 on sewer maintenance. With so many companies willing to offer free pickup and a container, there's no good reason why establishments that use cooking oil shouldn't take advantage of this service. Further, used cooking oil of any type can be repurposed into biodiesel fuel for use in converted car engines. Biodiesel burns cleaner than fossil fuels and produces no adverse impact on global warming. Since this discovery, there have been worldwide initiatives to reduce carbon-based energy generation, such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 10 percent by 2018.

Another notable effort to repurpose used cooking oil is the Illini Biodiesel Initiative, a registered student organization at the University of Illinois that collects around 100 gallons of oil and transports it to Research Park. The oil is then put in a thermal reactor and converted into biodiesel. Even better, the oil is sold back to the university to be used in campus vehicles. The organization earns about $2 per gallon of used oil, with all proceeds reinvested back into the initiative.

Bottom line: Restaurant owners need to properly train their staff on proper cooking oil disposal to ensure that no oil will enter the sewers. The benefits of doing so not only ensures that no contaminants will enter the water supply, but can also provide a ready use for conversion to cleaner-burning fuel. Companies such as Grease Car offer conversion kits, which are relatively inexpensive considering the cost of regular petroleum, and the fact that biodiesel burns much cleaner only adds to the benefit.

Organizations such as these have one goal in mind: reduce emissions and ensure our long-term sustainability through repurposing a product that was once deemed useless after its prime.

 Image credit: MalayaliClassifieds

3p Contributor

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