How Recycling Cooking Oil is Keeping Employees Safe

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This article was written and published by Sodexo and originally appeared in the Spotlight on Sustainability Newsletter. Read the full story and access the newsletter here.

In 23 kitchens across the South, Sodexo has diverted nearly half a million pounds of kitchen fryer oil from the waste stream, giving it a second life as sustainable biofuel. Sodexo food services teams at Georgia Tech, in Atlanta; Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps base in Jacksonville, North Carolina; and Gulfstream Aerospace Company in Savannah, Georgia are partnering with oil management provider, RTI, to support the cooking oil delivery, management and removal process in their kitchens. In addition to eliminating used oil waste, the process has reduced carbon emissions and kept thousands of pounds of cardboard and plastic out of the dumpster and landfills — all while improving employee health and safety.

Specifically, across these 23 kitchens, Sodexo has been able to eliminate:

  • 514 trash dumpsters each year;
  • Over 13,800 pounds of cardboard and plastic, saving 7,200 cubic feet of landfill space each year; and
  • 422,017 pounds of GHG CO2 emissions, or the equivalent of 36 cars removed from the road each year.

Unlike most kitchen food waste, which can be eliminated before it is created with best management practices, cooking oil waste is unavoidable. At a certain point, the oil is burned up and no longer suitable for frying food. So how does RTI’s oil management process help to reduce waste in Sodexo kitchens? After receiving fresh oil from the suppliers, RTI trucks distribute it directly to holding tanks at each of Sodexo’s kitchens. Then they collect the used cooking oil from a separate tank into their now empty truck. Instead of simply disposing of the used oil, RTI takes it to be recycled. Oil that would otherwise have been disposed of in a landfill, potentially seeping into the surrounding groundwater and affecting the local environment, is turned into feedstock and biodiesel that can be used to heat homes or power cars. The recycling also mitigates the impact of RTI’s fleet of delivery trucks. For every one gallon of fuel that the delivery trucks burn, they collect 15+ gallons of used cooking oil for conversion into biofuel. The added bonus is that the recycling program generates revenue that is rewarded back to the Sodexo operation.

“We are so thrilled to have a partner like RTI, said Grant Grimes, Sustainability Coordinator, Georgia Tech Dining Services. They are able to take something that can’t be used in our kitchens anymore, and convert it into biodiesel that can run anything from a tractor on a local farm to the food trucks on the Georgia Tech campus.”

In addition to eliminating cooking oil waste, RTI’s closed-loop oil management system means that no packaging is required with the delivery of the fresh cooking oil. Because cooking oil is heavy, liquid and requires storage, oil in traditional jugs requires a significant amount of packaging. Typically, each plastic jug comes housed in a stackable cardboard box. If you add these components up it amounts to a lot of extra packaging that is eliminated with bulk delivery directly into holding tanks.

Finally, the closed-loop tank system reduces the risk of oil related injuries and spills because the oil is always contained. Both the fresh and waste oil tanks are connected directly to the fryers so the oil is never exposed unless it is in the fryer itself. Traditionally, the process of removing used oil from the kitchen can be messy and risky as oil is drained into buckets and hauled out by employees. Now employees can add, filter and dispose of oil without ever touching a drop. Marcus Faison, Resident District Manager for Gulfstream said, “Partnering with RTI allowed us to eliminate an estimated 325 round trips for employees who previously had to dispose of used cooking oil into tanks. This is more efficient and we have eliminated the spills, burns or clogged drains associated with this disposal too.”

As demand for cooking oil continues to rise, so too do the financial and environmental costs associated with food waste to landfill. Thanks to our innovative partnership with RTI, Sodexo can give its used oil new life and save time and resources while doing so. Doug Dippold, Director, Food Service Division for Camp Lejeune, clearly understands the business case for this waste solution. “Camp Lejeune has saved tens of thousands of dollars with the RTI system,” he says.