Environmental Stewardship At Scale – What Do Commercial Kitchens Do With Used Cooking Oil?

Here’s a shocking statistic. Three out of five workers’ comp claims in the restaurant industry are tied to cooking oil. While some of those claims are tied to burns from hot cooking oil, almost half of them are linked to slips and falls.

How a commercial kitchen handles used cooking oil is critical. Workers in the food industry are in the ideal position to be environmental stewards. What is environmental stewardship and how can people in commercial kitchens do their part?

Understanding Environmental Stewardship

An environmental steward is a person or organization whose actions are to protect and conserve a sustainable environment to protect the earth and the people in it. Some of the ways to do this are by recycling, growing your commercial kitchen’s produce, and sourcing local meats, eggs, dairy, and produce. Composting food waste and recycling used cooking oil are other ways to do this.

What specifically can the owners and employees do to practice environmental stewardship in a commercial kitchen? Switching to energy-efficient appliances, LED lighting, and smart thermostats will help. Sustainable, compostable packaging for takeout is important. Eco-friendly cleaners, farm-to-table menus, and composting food waste are other critical choices. If you’re not recycling your cooking oil, it’s time to start.

What Steps Should You Take?

Environmental stewardship is your goal, and cooking oil recycling should be a primary goal. If you don’t currently recycle used cooking oil, it’s time.

Arrange Used Cooking Oil Collection

What currently happens to your used cooking oil? If you’re pouring it down a drain, you need to stop. It’s not allowed as it either ends up creating clogs in the sewer lines or going into a waterway where it harms aquatic creatures, plants, and wildlife. If you’re putting it in bags to go to the landfill, that’s also not ideal.

On its own, vegetable oil takes almost a month to break down. In a glass jar, plastic bottle, or plastic bag, it can take upwards of a century. Plus, if a garage truck compacts the bags of oil and they burst, that’s a huge mess to clean up in trucks, bins, or on streets and facility lots. Do not put it in food compost bins. Cooking oil is not allowed in those bins. Cooking oil collection from a licensed grease trap repair and inspection company is best.

With used cooking oil collection, the company you hire provides a container that you might put outside or in a low-traffic area of your kitchen or storage. When you clean and drain your fryers, place the oil in that container. Keep the container sealed to prevent animals from getting in. Typically, those oil containers fill up every two weeks or so and need to be drained.

The filled containers of used cooking oil are pumped out by a used cooking oil recycling company and taken to a processing plant to turn into biodiesel. Biodiesel is blended with petroleum-based diesel to reduce the consumption of petroleum fuels. It takes over eight pounds of used cooking oil to make one gallon of biodiesel.

Some kitchens use more cooking oil than others. If a commercial kitchen is used to make tortilla chips that are sold in area farmers’ markets or stores, the cooking is almost entirely done in fryers. A doughnut shop is also going to use a lot of cooking oil. A restaurant that has a mix of fried foods, baked dishes, and grilled items won’t use as much. The amount you use determines how often you’ll need to have your used cooking oil containers emptied.

What happens when your used cooking oil is hauled away? How is your kitchen’s used cooking oil turned into biodiesel? It starts with the oil being filtered to remove all particles of food and breading. The next steps involve a process called transesterification.

Transesterification occurs when the oil is mixed with some type of short-chain alcohol like methanol. Once they’re mixed, a catalyst, such as potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide, is introduced. This triggers transesterification, which turns the three ingredients into biodiesel and glycerin. Glycerin is a sugar that’s used in a variety of beauty products like body wash and pharmaceuticals like cough syrup.

Why isn’t the remaining biodiesel used on its own? The fats and oils found in biodiesel are thicker in biodiesel and cline to rings and other areas of the engine, which reduces engine life. Plus, the fuel thickens more in very cold weather, so it can create issues. It’s blended with petroleum-based diesel for that reason. Eventually, engines may be improved to a point that straight biodiesel is suitable, but for now, the mix is important.

Pair Oil Recycling With an Oil Filtration System

In addition to used cooking oil recycling, invest in fryers that have an oil filtration system. It extends the life of your kitchen’s cooking oil by filtering out food particles. The longer you can use your oil, the less oil you’re using each week. That helps lower the amount of canola, peanut, or vegetable oil that you’re purchasing for your kitchen.

Follow Area Regulations

In Portland, commercial kitchens for delivery services, catering, restaurants, hotels, cafes, and companies that sell prepared foods are required to have working grease traps. If you are in a restaurant or kitchen that doesn’t have one, you may be grandfathered for now, but it becomes a requirement if you renovate or purchase a new space.

You need to make sure that you have a working grease trap, and that trap has to be cleaned regularly. Proof of those cleanings and inspections is often required per city regulations. You need to partner with a licensed grease trap cleaning service that is approved by the city. Northwest Biofuel is ready to help you.

In addition to grease trap cleanings, we also collect used cooking oil for recycling. We’ll provide you with a large container to keep outside, but we do have indoor storage options if you lack the space outside. If your container fills up before our collection day, call us and we’ll send someone out within 24 hours. We don’t want you to have to wait or find other ways to store your used cooking oil until we’re due to arrive. There is no cost for our used cooking oil collection.

When you bundle grease trap cleanings and used cooking oil collection, you get substantial discounts. There are additional ways to get discounts, such as leaving us a key for after-hours collection, which keeps us from interfering with your busy kitchen. Schedule service online via the contact form found on NWBioFuel.com or by phone.