If you have ever wondered where the grease went you are like me…I used to watch my mom religiously transfer used oil into small plastic containers and put them under the sink. Of course being the ultimate recycler that she is, she would re-use the oil for subsequent cooking (I love you mom!). If southern cooking tastes good now you know the recipe!
But then what about the grease generated in your local restaurant kitchen? Whatever happens to that? There are many ways to take care of used cooking oil, especially when looking at large quantities used in commercial cooking (think your local burger joints fryer). Now I wouldn’t necessarily call dumping oil down the drain ‘taking care’ of the used oil. Not only is this illegal in most places, it actually costs you more money to do so in the long run. Now think about it. Dumping large quantities of oil down the drain can clog up your drainage system, or clog up the lines down street from you. Both of these will directly result in costly repairs, and or a hike in waste disposal and removal (watch for your city’s sewer bills to go up). In the United States, sewers back up annually “an estimated 400,000 times, and municipal sewer overflows on 40,000 occasions”. The EPA has determined that sewer pipe blockages are the leading cause of sewer overflows, and grease is the primary cause of sewer blockages.
So what does happen to grease that you dump into the drain? Well, that’s easy to discern looking just at common waste water. Common waste-water contains small amounts of oils which enter into septic tanks and treatment facilities to form a floating scum layer. This scum layer is very slowly digested and broken down by microorganisms in the anaerobic digestion process. However, very large amounts of oil from food production in kitchens and restaurants can overwhelm the septic tank or treatment facility, causing a release of untreated sewage into the environment. Given the law, the effects on the environment some establishments might be motivated enough to consider recycling their cooking grease. For others the fact that are multiple easy ways to recycle grease ranging from free pick up to setting up grease interceptors all the way to recycling it back (bio-diesel) for energy generation should be motivating enough. I am not kidding. At one extreme is dumping the grease down the drain, and at the other end is the ability to generate electricity to run your establishment. Which do you choose!
Before we delve headlong into recycling cooking grease lets take a look at what it is. Commonly referred to as FOG (Fat, Oil and Grease) this is the byproduct of cooking in the restaurant business. They can clog up drain pipes effectively. Also high viscosity fats and cooking greases such as lard solidify upon cooling to block pipes and plumbing. FOG typically enter the plumbing system from dish-washing, floor cleaning and equipment sanitation. Sewer systems are neither designed nor equipped to handle the FOG that accumulates on the interior of pipes. The best way to manage FOG is to keep the material out of the plumbing systems. Next let us look at some easy ways to keep FOG out of your plumbing and sewer systems.
The best way to avoid getting FOG into drains is to be careful not to spill it. Using covers while transporting oil, providing suitable gear to employees such as ladles, containers etc while moving grease trap contents go a long way. Using rubber scrapers or paper towels to remove grease from utensils, using food grade paper to soak oil spills and to wipe down work areas goes a long way in ensuring the oil does not end up in your drain. Of course these are great ways of ensuring spillage does not happen. But what does one do with the FOG itself that is generated as a result of all the cooking! Well that will have to wait for part two of this posting. Stay tuned