Cooking Oil Recycling in Fast-Food Chains: Setting Industry Standards

More than 200,800 fast-food restaurants exist in the U.S., an increase of 0.8% from 2022. Oregon has over 11,550 of them, including 3,602 chain restaurants. If you stop and consider that the average fast-food restaurant generates 35 pounds of used cooking oil each day, it’s a lot. In one year, a restaurant disposes of 12,775 pounds of used cooking oil. That’s a lot.

Now consider that every 8.5 pounds of used cooking oil produces 1 gallon of biodiesel. Every fast-food restaurant in Oregon has the potential to help create just over 1,500 gallons of biodiesel each year. The problem is that not every restaurant worker knows or follows the rules.

Some states lack rules on disposing of used cooking oil, but you need to check. In many states, you are required to recycle it. Restaurants should not pour it down a drain or toss it out, and in states like Alaska, it’s stated that if you can’t recycle it locally, you should have it shipped out of state for processing.

Fast-food restaurants are in the perfect position to set industry standards. As they generate so much used cooking oil each week, they can create a standard of having their used cooking oil picked up, hauled to a biodiesel processing facility, and converted into a more environmentally friendly form of diesel.

Why Recycle?

Recycling your used cooking oil is important for two reasons. First, it keeps cooking oil out of landfills or sewers. In both areas, it harms the environment. In sewer lines, it can create costly blockages that workers have to clear, which means a lot of frustration over time.

Second, it generates a renewable biodiesel that lowers our dependency on petroleum-based diesel. Fracking and drilling for oil harm the groundwater and soil. It’s also not a renewable source. If oil runs out, people lose a way to power cars or heat their homes. Biodiesel helps solve that problem while also establishing an environmentally friendly way to reuse cooking oil that would otherwise be thrown out.

Oregon’s top five fast food restaurants don’t all fry foods, but those that do have guidelines in place to recycle their used cooking oil. McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Dairy Queen, Burger King, and Carl’s Jr. top the list. A few of them have been very vocal about the steps they’re taking to recycle used cooking oil. Take a closer look at some of the different ways that used cooking oil is recycled and what it’s used to make.

McDonald’s in Europe Opted to Recycle Used Cooking Oil

In 2020, McDonald’s announced an initiative where all used cooking oil from their fryers would be recycled through a renewable diesel program. It included McDonald’s locations in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. In the Netherlands, nearly 1,000 tons of used cooking oil was recycled that first year.

Due to the success, McDonald’s expanded the program to the U.S. where several airport McDonald’s started to recycle their used cooking oil. Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport was one of them. The oil is converted into a biodiesel that’s used in jet fuel.

KFC’s Been Doing It For Years

While McDonald’s is newer to the game, another major fast food restaurant started recycling used cooking oil in some of its locations back in 2012. They have their used cooking oil converted into animal feedstock and used cooking oil.

Some KFC locations take advantage of systems where used cooking oil is picked up and fresh oil is dropped off at the same time. One of the benefits is that employees never have to handle hot oil. The kitchen equipment has tanks for the fresh oil that’s pumped directly into the fryer when needed. Used cooking oil is pumped out so that the fryer is empty. It’s ready for employees to clean it before adding fresh oil.

Taco Bell Is Adding Restaurants to the Recycling Efforts

After McDonald’s, Taco Bell is the third largest fast food chain in Oregon. Subway is number one, but Subway doesn’t fry anything so we’re not counting them. Taco Bell does recycle used cooking oil at the majority of its U.S. locations, but the company is working to get every restaurant to recycle its oil. Taco Bell’s used cooking oil is used to make renewable biodiesel and polymers.

Taco Bell stands out for another reason. It created a sauce packet recycling program in 2021 to keep the small sauce packets out of landfills. The recycling program accepts any sauce packet from any restaurant.

Jack In the Box Recycles A Lot of Oil

Jack In the Box boasts recycling more than 12,650 pounds of used cooking oil each year at its locations. It also uses a system where fresh cooking oil is pumped into the tanks, which eliminates the need for plastic oil jugs. The used cooking oil is recycled into biodiesel.

Panda Express Joins the Recycling Market

You might not think of Chinese restaurants as fast food, but they do count. Panda Express is a leader with bestselling items like Honey Walnut Shrimp and Orange Chicken. They also generate a lot of used cooking oil.

In 2023, Panda Express announced plans to recycle used cooking oil at most of their restaurants. With around 2,400 locations in all, it’s a lot of oil that’s going to be collected and turned into biodiesel.

Grease Traps Are Mandatory in Portland, Oregon

When grease and used cooking oil go down the drain, it coats the walls in the sewer lines and drain pipes. If that sticky, solidified oil combines with items like tissue paper, wrappers, baby wipes, etc., blockages prevent or slow the flow of wastewater. It’s messy and incredibly costly to cities. Prevention is key, so Portland added regulations to prevent this from happening.

Portland’s regulations require area restaurants to have working grease traps. Cleaning and inspecting them is mandated, and you need to have the proper paperwork proving you’re doing your part. NW Biofuel is a Portland-area Preferred Pumper Program member. Once our expert technicians have cleaned and inspected your grease trap, we file the paperwork with the city, and you get a copy. You never have to worry about being in compliance.

Plus, as part of our service plan, you can arrange to have us collect your used cooking oil every week or two. We’ll pick it up on schedule, and if something happens and your used cooking oil vat fills faster than normal, call us and we’ll be out within 24 hours.

When you partner with NW Biofuel, you get a discount on your grease trap service. We already have the lowest prices in the area and have been providing exceptional service since 2014. Give us a call to learn more about this discount and the discount we offer if you leave us a key for after-hour cleaning where we aren’t disrupting your business.

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