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How One South Carolina City Recycles its Cooking Oil

Southern Fried Fuel. It’s Columbia, S.C’s. crispy solution for recycling cooking oil—a fluid, problematic waste stream that coats and clogs the drains of culinary kitchens throughout the city.

Since its founding in 2009, the city’s Southern Fried Fuel program has collected an average of 1,000 gallons of used cooking oil per year.

“Everything from peanut to olive to canola is collected,” says Samantha Yager, recycling coordinator for the city. The used cooking oil is taken to Midlands Biofuels, a local business, and then converted into Certified South Carolina biofuel to power two trucks in its fleet.

“The rest of our diesel fleet runs on B5, which means it is 5 percent biodiesel and 95 percent regular diesel,” she says. “This is not only a cost savings for the city, but it also helps with our air quality initiative.”

Biofuels produce 15 to 75 percent fewer greenhouse emissions than conventional fuels. Biodiesel is also better for an engine than conventional diesel, providing greater lubrication and leaving fewer particular deposits behind, she says.

“Obviously in the south we love our fried food, and this was just a way for us to recycle more items and transition our fleet to a more sustainable fuel system,” she says. “You can gather around and be with family but with that used cooking oil you can also help the environment.”

The Southern Fried Fuel program also helps with the city’s storm water program, which has a “Trash the Grease” campaign that encourages residents to not pour used oil down the kitchen drain. The city suggests that residents bring in the used cooking oil in its original container.

“When fats, oils and grease are poured down the sink, it coats the inside of pipes and causes blockages causing sewer backups in homes and businesses,” Yager says. “These can also create overflows into streams and creeks. Each year, the city spends an average of $1.5 million unclogging and cleaning waste water collection lines.”

The key to growing the program and collection amounts is changing behavior, Yager says.

“Midlands Bio Fuels is growing and we feel that we want to grow with them and be able to provide them more oil,” she says. “We want to provide access and convenience in all aspects of recycling, not just cooking oil. Midlands provide the service for free. We don't pay them to come collect it and they don't charge us to come collect it. It's just this great partnership. We're providing them something that they need, and then they're helping us by providing that end product of the bio diesel.”

In 2016, Columbia hopes to expand its monthly collection to three fire stations to give residents additional convenient locations to recycling cooking oil, especially during the summer and holidays when residents are frying up everything from fish fries to turkeys.

“Our collections fluctuate two or 300 gallons a year but it really depends on what other special drop off events are being offered, and the weather,” says Yager, adding that she has been working towards having cooking oil recycling at city-sponsored festivals. “Most festivals are frying some sort of food. This is just another opportunity to support a local business and educate on the benefits of recycling things other than what is collected curbside.” 

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