The Importance of Responsible Deep Fryer Oil Disposal: Environmental Impact and Regulations

Almost 750,000 restaurants are found in the U.S., and approximately 103,300 of them are chains. In Oregon alone, there were 10,569 restaurants or food/beverage establishments in 2022. 

The National Renderers Association reports that 4.4 billion pounds of used cooking oil, including used deep fryer oil, are collected and processed every year in the U.S. and Canada. Much of that becomes feedstock for biodiesel and renewable diesel production. Why is this so important? 

What Impact Does Deep Fryer Oil Have on the Environment?

A standard deep fryer holds up to 50 pounds of oil, with a double fryer holding up to 100 pounds. After a meal service, filtering out the oil of food particles and then covering it helps prolong its life. Salting food after the frying process also helps extend deep fryer oil’s life. Once cooking oil is changing color, thickens, smokes when heated, or smells different, it’s time to change it.

That used cooking oil is harmful to the environment. If you pour it down your drain, which is illegal in many areas, it can thicken and combine with things like flushable wipes and other things that shouldn’t get flushed or go down a drain. The solidified fats, oil, and grease form a fatberg, which blocks pipes and becomes a costly mess for sewer workers. It’s also costly to Oregon restaurant owners who often face steep fines for improper disposal of used cooking oil.

This is just one of the issues. Some restaurant owners have tried to sneak oil disposal by dumping it in ditches or down stormwater runoffs. When oil ends up in waterways, it coats feathers, which harms birds by making them overheat. It suffocates coral reefs and fish. 

If you dispose of massive amounts of used cooking oil in a landfill, it takes time to break down and can emit greenhouse gases in the process. If wildlife consumes large amounts of cooking oil, it can lead to diarrhea and dehydration. Responsible recycling of deep fryer oil is essential for animals and the environment.

Cooking Oil Recycling Regulations in the U.S.

On June 30, 2000, the EPA clarified rules regarding the handling, storage, or transportation of vegetable oils and animal fats. Spill prevention must be practiced and facilities need to have plans in place in case of small, medium, or large (worst case) spills. As cooking oil is a hazardous substance within the environment, many states have enacted laws regarding used cooking oil recycling.

Fats, oil, and grease (FOG) is a concern in Oregon, which led to the creation of the Oregon Plumbing Specialty Code. It’s a legal requirement that Portland restaurants and food service industries must follow by having a hydromechanical grease interceptor or gravity grease interceptor installed, pumped, and inspected regularly. 

Hydromechanical grease interceptors are located inside and handle a specific water flow of usually 20 to 50 gallons per minute. Gravity grease interceptors are placed outside and have larger tanks of up to 4,000 gallons. No matter which you have, the city wants proof that you have your grease traps cleaned and maintained. 

You usually have them cleaned when the tank is 25% full of FOG and solids, but it depends on the system as some can make it to 75% before cleaning and emptying is necessary. If you wait too long and your system backs up, you face fines and have the line between your kitchen and the main sewer line cleared. Using a Preferred Pumper helps ensure you stay up to code and meet the city’s requirements.

Grease traps must be installed in new constructions, tenant changeovers, redevelopments, or renovations. In addition, Portland and Lake Oswego restaurants and food service establishments pay higher wastewater fees due to the time it takes to clean and treat wastewater that contains food waste and oil particles. A grease trap helps keep this oil to a minimum, but the goal is to keep residential ratepayers from shouldering the cost of treating restaurant wastewater.

How Should Food Establishments Handle Used Deep Fryer Oil?

What do you do as a food service establishment that uses a lot of deep fryer oil? It’s important to recycle it. The U.S. Department of Energy gives a quick breakdown of what it takes to make biodiesel. 

Mix 100 pounds of recycled cooking oil with 10 pounds of methanol or another short-chain alcohol and add a catalyst like potassium or sodium hydroxide. Once the transesterification process is complete, you’re left with 10 pounds of glycerin and 100 pounds of biodiesel. It breaks down to about 0.9 gallons of biodiesel for every gallon of used cooking oil.

By itself, biodiesel isn’t a great fuel. It may work well in warm climates, but in cooler temperatures, it thickens. This is why most engines require a mix of petroleum-based diesel and biodiesel known as B5 (5% biodiesel) or B20 (20% biodiesel). Until there’s a way to keep it from thickening in cold climates, a mix of the two reduces the dependency on fossil fuels and lowers emissions. 

Save your used cooking oil in covered containers and arrange to have it picked up for recycling. There are setups where you can add new cooking oil directly to your fryers from a storage tank. When it’s time to clean your fryers for new oil, drain the used oil through lines that run to storage tanks in a storeroom or outside. 

It’s easy to manage, and a used cooking oil collection company pumps out the tank on a scheduled basis and provides a discount on the grease trap cleaning and inspection you need to follow city codes. If you go through more cooking oil than normal and need your recycled oil tanks emptied sooner, NW Biofuel makes it easy to get emergency pick-up services.

Talk to NW Biofuel, an Oregon Preferred Pumper

NW Biofuel is a Preferred Pumper. This helps you as once we’ve cleaned and inspected your grease trap, we fill out the required paperwork and file it with the city. You don’t have excessive paperwork to complete, and you prove you’ve done everything required of you.

There’s another reason to avoid trying to clean and maintain your grease trap on your own. Portland City Code 17.34, Administrative Rule ENB-4.26 prohibits the use of bacterial, chemical, or enzymatic cleaners. If you’re caught, you may end up paying the highest sewer rates. A professional grease trap cleaner ensures you get the appropriate rate discounts.

Talk to NW Biofuel about your Oregon food service establishment’s grease trap needs. We ensure you’re up to code and we offer discounts when we also collect your used cooking oil. You follow city regulations and save money at the same time.

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