Recycling Cooking Oil: Another Way to Slow Climate Change

Imagine how much oil one fast food restaurant uses in a day, multiplied by how many restaurants are doing this around the world, and you may see that there is a big concern about what to do with all this oil, which often becomes thick and full of sediment, and then gets dumped. 

However, commercial kitchens of all kinds, including hotels and hospitals, are turning their used oil into diesel fuel. Cooking oil supply and recycling companies can now send a truck out to pick up the used oil and deliver it to refineries for recycling.

Cooking oil is plant-based and can be blended with petroleum oil to create a diesel fuel that releases only about 25% as much carbon as standard diesel oil, according to the Miami Herald. This makes a huge difference in cutting down on air pollution and greenhouse gasses that contribute to global warming. 

But there are additional benefits. In the past, restaurants would buy cooking oil in plastic jugs, use the oil until it was contaminated, and then throw it and the jugs into a landfill. 

Today these cooking oil suppliers deliver to permanently installed steel tanks instead, which are about the size of a water heater. The cooking oil gets a second life first, as the suppliers filter it onsite for extended usage, or some tanks have automatic filters built in. This helps to cut down on energy that would be used to make even more cooking oil, and it saves the work and costs of growing additional canola and soy. 

One franchise owner claims that by extending his ability to use the same oil, he did not have to purchase an additional 21,000 gallons of oil, which cut down his spending by 50%. In terms of sustainability, that translates to about 230 tons of carbon emissions saved. 

On return trips, the supplier takes the twice-used, unrecyclable oil to an oil refinery such as Chevron’s Renewable Energy Group, to be blended into diesel fuel for cars, trucks, trains, planes, boats, motorhomes and home heating oil. This entire cycle of delivery, use, recycling and refining is referred to as total oil management. 

Although bio-diesel fuel has been increasingly helping to reduce emissions for some 15 years, it is not a zero-emissions answer. At the moment, only electric vehicles meet that demand. However, as other means of transportation come about, recycled cooking oil may remain as a go-to for home heating oil, and a backup fuel source in EVs.