From French fries to fried chicken, the deep fryer is an important part of many American kitchens. Once the useful life of the oil for frying is over, the used cooking oil can be a resource, or it can be a hazard. Pouring oil down the sink can cause major structural damage, and throwing liquid waste into the trash is far from ideal.
So, what is the best way to dispose of used cooking oil (UCO), and how can restaurants opt for the most environmentally—and economically—sound method of recycling this inevitable byproduct?
Why Should You Recycle Cooking Oil?
Cooking oil is an often underutilized resource when it reaches the end of its life. After oil is used for cooking, it is often disposed of instead of being reused.
Restaurants should establish sustainable and effective oil recycling plans for a variety of reasons, including:
Preserving Facilities and Appliances
When disposed of improperly, cooking oil and grease can cause costly damage to drains and kitchen appliances. While it may look like liquid going down the drain, oil will later harden, causing a blockage in your individual or local drainage system. Plus, improper oil waste handling can often go against regulatory guidelines—potentially landing you or your business in legal trouble.
Protecting Global and Local Environments
Recycling oil and grease properly ensures these waste products are staying out of the environment, reducing the risk of harming natural resources like soil and water systems. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “spills of animal fats and vegetable oils have the same or similar devastating impacts on the aquatic environment as petroleum oils.” Opting into oil waste recycling also means you are supporting renewable and green fuel efforts, showing dedication to sustainable systems as a whole.
Reducing Health Risks
If disposed of haphazardly, cooking oils can create health problems for your customers or community. Trapped oil, grease, and fats create hazardous fumes, and the sewage issues caused by drain-blocking oils are shown to carry dangerous bacteria and pathogens.
How to Recycle Cooking Oil at Home
While Rubicon’s used cooking oil (UCO) recycling program caters to restaurants and other commercial businesses, oil is an inevitable part of home cooking. Common household oils include plant-based varieties like vegetable, canola, corn, sesame, and olive oils. There are also animal-based products and fats such as lard, butter, or bacon fat.
Dumping any of these oils down your kitchen drain can mean disaster for your plumbing system. Instead, try these tactics to properly dispose of cooking oil in your home.
While often an unknown fact, cooking oil can be reused after initial use. This is an environmental and economic option for households that use large quantities of oil often, such as to fry food. However, it’s important to remember that with each use, the smoking point of the oil will drop—so only reuse oils with an initially high smoke point, such as canola or avocado oil.
After use, strain your oil through a cheesecloth or other filter to remove any food particles. Then, carefully pour into a sealed container and store in the refrigerator until use. Reused oil must be stored properly, as rancid oil can cause harmful bacterial growth. Always check for signs of rancid oil before using it by giving it a quick sniff.
As strange as it sounds, used cooking oil can be reused and reimagined into bars of soap. Fats are often the basis of soap recipes, so by taking advantage of used cooking oil, you can easily create a one of a kind, sustainable soap bar of your own.
Finally, do some research into local oil recycling initiatives. While oil recycling services are often scarce in residential areas, communities are increasingly offering oil recycling centers or designated drop off days for households to recycle their oil. UCO can be recycled into products like biodiesel, which can fuel diesel engines.
If you have no options to recycle your home cooking oil, it’s important to remember not to pour it down the drain. If you have to throw UCO away, do so inside of a sealed container like a spare bottle or can.
How Restaurants Recycle Cooking Oil
Oil is a byproduct of the restaurant business, and strict regulations are in place to ensure the proper disposal of oil and grease.
Therefore, businesses must create a recycling game plan for their UCO. Oftentimes, this means employing commercial oil recyclers to pick up stored oil, often at a financial benefit to the restaurant.
Yellow grease—defined as spent cooking oil and other fats collected from commercial or industrial cooking operations—has inherent value in the market. This is because yellow grease is linked to petroleum oil values, as UCO can be refined into biodiesel and used as fuel.
Therefore, many restaurants that produce large volumes of oil will partner with oil recyclers to donate or sell their UCO for use in biofuel or other sustainable efforts.
In-house technology allows oil to be collected directly from kitchen appliances, such as fryers, and stored safely in collection containers for later pickup. Smaller restaurants may have grease traps (built into the floor or in underground tanks outside) that separate the spent oil from any accumulated wastewater. This creates what is known as brown grease, a mixture of fats, oils, and greases (FOG) that is collected separately to preserve water systems.
How Does Used Oil Recycling Work?
After collection, yellow grease is brought to oil recycling centers and put through a processing machine. Here, the UCO is heated and filtered to remove any lingering food product.
Next, the solution will sit until naturally separated into three parts: grease, water, and fine solids. From here, it’s put into a centrifuge and spun–separating the grease product from the rest of the layers. This process transforms UCO into a reusable resource.
Brown grease, on the other hand, is taken to a wastewater treatment plant with the intention of removing the FOG so it doesn’t cause harm to water systems. Some wastewater treatment plants have an anaerobic digester on-site which gleans natural gas from the FOG.
Oil and Grease Recycling Solutions
Whether at home or in your business, it’s important to remember that used cooking oil (UCO) isn’t a waste—it’s a highly valuable resource.
No matter the type of oil you handle, everyone must follow some basic due diligence in accordance with the federal government, and improper management of used oil can leave you in a sticky situation. Waste transporters often need to meet specific guidelines for a state or local permit, and they must have a valid EPA identification number. Finding the right waste management company is key to reducing your risk exposure when it comes to recycling cooking oil.
If your business produces a large volume of UCO, search online for grease recycling programs in your area. Ensure that the programs you’re looking for are specifically for commercial used cooking oil (UCO) or grease trap cleaning services. For customized assistance in this area, Rubicon is here to help.
If you have any questions about used cooking oil recycling, you can reach out to Rubicon’s Circular Solutions team directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact our sales team at (844) 479-1507.
Ryan Cooper is a Waste Diversion Manager and the Organics Recycling Lead at Rubicon. To stay ahead of Rubicon’s announcements of new partnerships and collaborations around the world, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, or contact us today.