The Impact of Restaurant Grease Recycling on the Environment and Local Communities

Used cooking oil and food scraps are more than a hassle for your restaurant. Oils pose a threat to communities and the environment. That’s why many cities have been cracking down on the fats, oils, and grease (FOG) coming from restaurants, food carts, and food trucks.

Restaurant FOG is a major problem in sewers around the world. You might not think of the issues that arise, but those grease and food particles coming from your restaurant meld with other items that get flushed like wet wipes, wrappers, and menstrual products. It creates a concrete-like mass known as a fatberg that clogs sewer lines and causes overflows in homes, streets, and businesses. Imagine if you had a backed-up sewer line in your restaurant kitchen. It could shut you down for days.

That same sewer backup could enter a residential neighborhood and release raw sewage into homes. Those homes are now flooded and inhabitable until the clog is removed and the home is professionally cleaned and sanitized. If the raw sewage backs up on a street and gets into an area river, the water is now contaminated and can harm wildlife and shut down beaches, which means fewer visitors and less business for your restaurant.

The Severity of Fatbergs

London saw one of history’s biggest fatbergs. It weighed 130 tons and spanned about 820 feet. London isn’t the only big city dealing with these issues. Portland has about 30 problem areas where grease builds up and slows the flow of wastewater. Every few months workers have to go in and clear the grease, costing the city about $4.6 million in 2016.

In 2017, Portland’s sewer workers removed almost 2.4 million pounds of grease. At that point, grease interceptors had been required in Portland restaurants for five years, but of the 3,500 restaurants at that time, only 2,200 had installed them. Reports are that almost 200 restaurants closed during the pandemic, but many have been added since then.

With each restaurant, food cart, or food truck that’s in operation, there is some level of fat going down the drain, and that’s why grease traps are essential, it’s the key to keeping restaurant FOG out of the sewers.

Restaurants Need to Recycle Cooking Oil and Have a Working Grease Trap

To prevent FOG from reaching the sewers, restaurants must have grease traps or grease interceptors installed in their kitchens. Wastewater from sinks, dishwashers, and floor drains has to be directed to the grease interceptor.

Laws changed requiring food carts to be equipped with upgrades like allowing food carts to connect directly to the sewer lines after getting the appropriate permits from the city. Wastewater cubes are no longer allowed unless the cart arranges to have a wastewater removal service clean out the onboard wastewater tank regularly, which can mean daily cleanings for some. When these laws changed, food carts were given a few years to comply, and that time is up.

Whether you have a food cart, truck, or restaurant, a grease trap or grease interceptor is essential. And, you need to have it cleaned regularly. The documentation you receive for having it cleaned and inspected is essential for proving you’re doing your part and is often required by the city.

Restaurants also need to recycle their cooking oil. When emptying a fryer to clean it and replace the used cooking oil, the used cooking oil goes into a collection bin. It never should be poured down the drain.

When that vessel is filled, it’s hauled away by a used cooking oil recycling company. There, it’s recycled and turned into feedstock and biofuel. More on that in a bit.

How Does a Grease Trap Work?

What does a grease trap or interceptor do? Wastewater from a sink, dishwasher, or floor drain directs the gray water to the grease trap. In that trap or interceptor, the water enters a tank and cools off. Fat floats to the top of the tank while food particles sink to the bottom. The water trapped in between those two layers moves to the sewer outlet pipe.

As the tank fills up, the trap must be professionally cleaned to remove the food scum and fats. It’s taken to a wastewater treatment plant for processing.

What Happens With the Used Cooking Oil?

That’s the grease trap, so we’ll circle back to the used cooking oil. It goes to a facility where it’s filtered to remove food particles. Those particles can be composted or incinerated. The oil that’s been cleaned of food particles is blended with a catalyst like sodium hydroxide and a short-chain alcohol like methanol. This mixture leads to a mix of glycerin and biodiesel.

Glycerin becomes an ingredient found in many cosmetic products like soap or lotions. The biodiesel is mixed with petroleum-based diesel to fuel diesel engines. This reduces the demand for petroleum-based diesel, which is better for the environment.

Petroleum fuel processing, both extraction and refinement, releases pollutants that can get into the air, water, and soil. While this is generally well managed, a spill can become extremely hazardous to wildlife and humans. Moving from petroleum-based products could help protect aquatic creatures like the fish we eat and could also lower the risk of cancers linked to benzene.

This is just the first of many ways that used cooking oil can benefit the environment. Dallas-Fort Worth airport has been collecting used cooking oil from terminal restaurants and turning it into sustainable aviation fuel. It’s a program that’s working well at recycling more than 30,000 pounds of cooking oil every month. Portland’s restaurants can do the same for vehicles and planes. SAF has been used in Portland-Hillsboro Airport since 2022.

It’s a Restaurant’s Responsibility to Recycle Used Cooking Oil and Get Grease Traps Cleaner

As a restaurant or food cart owner, it’s your responsibility to make sure FOG isn’t going down the storm drains or sewer lines. This means no pouring used cooking oil down a sewer grate or down the sink. Even if you need to have your grease trap cleaned several times a week, it’s better than the fines, damage to the environment, and effects on the community.

Why choose Northwest Biofuel for your restaurant grease recycling provider? We have one big reason. We guarantee your satisfaction or you don’t have to pay. We strive to make sure our customers are completely happy with our service. We also keep our rates low as we understand that frequent cleanings and inspections do eat into your revenues.

Schedule a grease trap cleaning and get substantial discounts by arranging cooking oil collection at the same time. Leave us a key to your restaurant for off-hour cleanings and oil collection and save money. Our prices are the lowest you’ll find, and we will never lock you into a contract. Our ultimate goal is to ensure you’re satisfied and that we’ve done our part to keep grease out of the sewers.

Reach Northwest Biofuel to learn more about scheduling used cooking oil collection, grease trap inspections, and the variety of discounts we offer to save your restaurant money. You’d be surprised by how easy and affordable our services are.