Job - Food Waste Recycler

David Trammel's picture

A while back a friend was thinking of converting his VW Beetle to bio-diesel. He had the idea of going around to restaurants and collecting their waste vegetable oil from firers, which apparently once the oil is filtered for organic particles, can be burned as fuel. He never did. My impression is at the time a lot of people had similar ideas. To make it practical it seems you would almost need to become more than an individual consumer and make you recycling efforts more of a business.

I found this article on recycling commercial food waste into animal feed a good example of such an upsize enterprise.

On Food

"Every morning after coffee, seven days a week I drive into the neighboring towns to make my run for food wastes. My wife refers to it as the slop run, but more than three quarters of what we pick up comes in the form of unopened or completely untouched food that until the previous evening had been on the supermarket shelf priced for consumers; produce, baked goods, and prepared foods. On a good day in the Summer we fill the back of a pickup truck with anywhere between 600 and 1,000 pounds of cabbages and muffins, fresh tomatoes and cherries, herbs packaged in plastic clam shells and tubs of potato salad.

We stop at three restaurants, a resort and a chain grocery store. Each business has it’s own reasons and plans for their waste management and we have been able to fit into their model seamlessly. We enter through the service entrance politely and efficiently, say our good-mornings and get to work. In the restaurants we leave heavy duty 40 gallon Brute containers on a rolling base with a lid. Kept near the food prep areas and another next to the dishwasher sous chefs and waitresses deposit the potato skins and uneaten pasta, watermelon rinds and coffee grounds, half eaten sandwiches and eggshells from everything they prepare and everything that their customers cannot finish.

The restaurants will, on a good night, produce a hundred and fifty pounds of carbon based surplus that we take back to the farm to feed our hogs and poultry. The resort produces three times as much and the supermarket ten times as much or more. For the businesses we service they save on the cost of waste handling and in the warmer months the prospect of keeping rotting food from accumulating in a dumpster for several days under the hot Sun, attracting flies and filling the air with the smells of decomposition before being hauled off to a landfill where it is buried, along with electronics, broken glass, plastics and odds and ends that will never degrade."


Might be a niche job a Green Wizard could fill profitably soon.

Alacrates's picture

My favorite recent documentary on environmental issues has been "Living the Change" by Happen Films. Nothing in it that is all that new to people interested in this area (I've found) but the film is made in a compelling way that presents these issues in a skillful manner. I'm hoping to have a local showing soon, a professor I talk with mentioned having a outdoors screening by a local forest

The permaculture farmer who states that "There are no real problems. We can solve all of them" gets me every time & makes me want to cry (!! hehe) - I don't necessarily follow that way of thinking, but I appreciate the optimism he demonstrates.

In the documentary, they follow one guy who starts up a composting program, and I definitely relate to his enthusiasm. I've worked in a university restaurant that returned all it's organic wastes, from coffee grinds to melon rinds and potato peels back to the student gardens, and it was a very satisfying project. I feel a similar way about trying to return the metals I work with these days - iron, steel, copper, brass to scrap metal operations that we have worked on in various ways as well.

I also think we could have people collecting up the fryer oil for biodiesel production, etc. Making use of waste materials is a positive business.

Blueberry's picture

Fryer oil is big business in Florida. Filter the stuff and you can run a diesel engine without making biodiesel. All you need is a warm engine and you are good to go. The diesel engine was running on veggie oil long before the oil companies made diesel fuel.

Alacrates's picture

Hmm, I didn't realize that biodiesel was a different substance than the filtered fryer oil -- I realize now I don't know much about enigines and their fuels at all.

When I was working at that restaurant, I know the gardener that took our old fryer old just filtered all the particulate matter out of it (the little bits of fried potatoes, etc.) and then ran her van on that.... it smelled a lot like french fries when the vehicle consumed this oil...

I remember reading at the time that restaurants in the Seattle area were having their used fryer oil stolen as they set it out for pick up. If all that is needed is a filter for it to be combusted in a regular diesel engine, I can see why it was so coveted!

Blueberry's picture
ClareBroommaker's picture

I had the impression that most US restaurants have saved used oil for years now. I know I see tanks out back where some sort of recycler will come pick it up. I do not know whether it gets used for making soaps, making vehicle fuel, adding to animal feed or something else.

I have always been able to find someone to take used vegetable oil off my hands. When my son has visited and deep fried fish, I do not like to use that oil for anything else. But I cannot see throwing it away. There is always someone on Craigslist or Nextdoor who will come pick it up-- even just a quart or so.

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

My dad is a welder. Growing up I lived (and still live) in the city, but we were one of the few families that heated with wood (though there do seem to be a few in every neighborhood). My dad had built his own furnace. Coming home from school in the winter, I was first to get in the door and the house would be cold. It was my job to start the fire up on those days (what fun!). Later he converted his system to use used motor oil. This was after I was out of the house. It was less work than finding trees that needed to be cut -which we would do to get the wood for free- and all the chopping, stacking, bringing it in, etc. That is satisfying work... but if you are already working full time.

In any case, his friends would bring him used motor oil and he had a few places he could collect it for free. Different gas stations and garages and such. Technically such a system isn't legal for a private home though it is legal for a business to do. Your local laws may vary. In changing circumstances , setting up and maintaining these systems could be a job too.

I'm also wondering how biodiesel would work in the system. I'll have to ask him about it and see if its possible.