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Saturday, August 17, 2013

GREASE: Activating the Zero Waste Evolution

Grease Recycling & Energy Alternative Solutions for the Environment 

When the Zero Waste Zones launched at the acclaimed February 2009 press conference, the collection of spent grease for the local production of biofuel was one of the program's participation criteria. Spent grease is used kitchen fryer oil, often referred to as yellow grease. At the time, meeting the criteria was easy. 

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy had an established grease collection system complete with a retail fueling station for their locally produced biofuel. For an overview of the 2009 SACE biofuel operations, watch the popular CNN video: City Aims for Zero Waste.

In 2010 the Energy Tax Credit renewal was delayed causing strife within a fragile, emerging industry. Most of the Atlanta market biofuel production facilities closed along with the SACE retail station. For Elemental Impact, the scenario revealed the ZWZ Criteria was not grounded in solid economics; the biofuels industry seemed dependent on the Energy Tax Credit for economic sustenance.

Working closely with SACE, Ei launched GREASE - Grease Recycling & Energy Alternative Solutions for the Environment, a task force to address the biofuels criteria viability. First on the agenda was addressing the "local" requirement. With out-of-state options available, Ei expanded local to include facilities within a 500-mile radius.

The spent grease ZWZ Criteria was grounded in highest good use versus landfill diversion. Spent grease is a valuable commodity with foodservice operators receiving rebates for grease collection. Next on the GREASE agenda was to address the final destination; the majority of the spent grease was destined for rendering plants as an ingredient in animal feed.

McKay Johnson of CEB &
Anne Blair of SACE @ opening
To learn first-hand about spent grease destinations, Roy Edwards, Georgia Department of Natural Resources Sustainability Division, and Ei founder Holly Elmore visited the Griffin Industries rendering plant in Ellenwood, GA. The ZWA Blog post, The By-Products of Mass Food Production, is a tour overview.

When the National Restaurant Association purchased the ZWZ in 2012, any revisions to the spent grease program criteria landed in their court. Complete with addressing spent grease destinations, the GREASE task force went into a holding pattern. For details on the NRA ZWA purchase, read the ZWA Blog post, National Restaurant Association Acquires Zero Waste Zones.

In 2012 SACE reopened their Atlanta biofuel retail station in partnership with Clean Energy Biofuels. The ZWA Blog post, Atlanta Retail Biofuel Station Opens, recaps the grand opening and the Ei FB album, 06-21-12 Biodiesel Fueling Station Grand Opening, is a pictorial overview.

grease accumulation in kitchen
exhaust system ducts
Once again working with SACE, GREASE returns to action mode with an expanded grease definition to include the following three types generated in foodservice operations:
  • Spent Grease - used grease from fryers, often referred to as yellow grease
  • F.O.G - Fats, Oils & Grease - grease collected from grease traps, often referred to as brown grease
  • Kitchen Hood Grease - airborne grease accumulated in the exhaust system from kitchen operations
With spent grease addressed, the GREASE Team will focus on FOG and kitchen hood grease. Current destinations are shifting for FOG. Until the recent past, the common FOG destination was direct land application or the landfill. Improved technologies and an expanding biofuels market support "cleaning" FOG with the grease going to biofuel production and food particulates sent for composting or to the landfill.

installed GLS
In the ZWA Blog post, Zero WATER Waste: more than a goal, a necessity, the importance of addressing kitchen hood grease, along with its related water use and contamination, is introduced. Ei joined forces with Compliance Solutions International for a three-restaurant pilot substantiating the Grease Lock System airborne grease collection success. For pilot details, see the ZWA Blog post, GREASE: a new frontier filled with economic & environmental promise.

Understanding the intrinsic kitchen grease value, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport took the first steps in assessing the types, quantities and current destinations of grease generated at the airport concessionaire operations. In August, SACE and Ei met with an airport team to begin the assessment process. 

GREASE Team @ ATL Airpot
As the Sustainable Food Court Initiative Airport Pilot, the Atlanta Airport is an industry leader in adopting sustainable practices for its food court and restaurant operations. 

In 2011, the Atlanta Airport won a Going Green Airports Award for the groundbreaking compostable packaging provision in the new airport concessionaire contracts. The ZWA Blog post, Atlanta Airport Makes Bold Sustainable Statement, announces the new contract provision and the Atlanta Airport SFCI Pilot Wins National Award post is an overview of the prestigious award.

With GREASE reactivated, the definition of "waste" in zero waste expands beyond traditional recyclable material to include grease generated in commercial foodservice operations. Water usage in commercial operations is another expanded zero waste component. Diversion rates will soon broaden from "diversion to landfill" to sewer systems and other waterways. The Zero Waste Evolution is activated!


  1. Restaurants are getting their waste vegetable oil (wvo) from the deep-fryers picked up and recycled. This is a standard practice in the food service industry in all of North America.

    Fats, oils, and grease in a conventional grease trap or interceptor eventually rots and turns into "brown grease". ( see ) Brown grease primarily goes to landfill.

    A grease recovery device (grd) recovers grease directly from the automatic dishwasher and the 3-compartment sink. The recovered grease is "Yellow Grease" which can be recycled with the waste vegetable oil from the deep-fryers.

    A GRD saves hundred of pounds of FOG per/year per/restaurant from going to landfill. The restaurants get paid for the recovered yellow grease and more importantly do not have to pay for grease trap or interceptor pumping.

    In the long run the sanitary sewers remain grease free, restaurants save money eliminating grease trap pumping and the environment benefits from the reduction of grease trap waste going to landfill.

    We all win.

  2. Great article ! Activating the Zero Waste Evolution Thanks for sharing this wonderful thing with us.Lovely