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Home > Feature Articles > Food Processing for Sustainable, Local, Organic and Effective Food Distribution

Rendering Cooking Oil from Restaurant Grease Pits

Restaurants are looking for solutions for their waste grease that is growing in value as biodiesel feedstock.

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There's always more to the story when you start talking to the real players on the ground. And the same holds true with the national stories about theft of used kitchen grease at restaurants.

The national story goes like this:

Siphoners strike in the night and restaurants are looking for solutions for their waste grease that is growing in value.

At a Burger King in California... and Seattle... restaurant owners are considering surveillance cameras to keep watch on their grease barrels. Some restauranteurs report their grease barrel had been hit seven or eight times in the last year.

"Fryer grease has become gold," Mr. Damianidis, a Washington pizza restaurant owner said. "And just over a year ago, I had to pay someone to take it away."

Processed fryer oil, which is called yellow grease, is traded on the booming commodities market. Its value has increased in recent months to historic highs, driven by the prices of gas and ethanol, making biodiesel a growing trend for fueling cars and trucks.

Prices have risen from 7.6 cents per pound in 2000, to 33 cents a pound in 2008. That makes a 2500 gallon theft worth about $6,000.

Thefts have been reported in at least 20 states, said Christopher A. Griffin, whose family owns Griffin Industries in Cold Spring, Ky, one of the largest grease collection and rendering companies in the country.

Fryer oil from a restaurant that produces a high volume of fryer grease from one kind of food — for example, fried-chicken — sells for a premium because of its relative purity. Restaurants are large-scale producers of grease and in recent months have even made a small profit by selling it to collectors.

The on-the-ground story goes like this...

Rendering is a 90 year old industry, and they have been recycling food and animal waste and keeping it out of the landfill at the same time they provide convenient and fluctuating cost management of waste pickup for the food industry. Their glycerine and fatty acid byproducts are used not only in the recent interest in biodiesel production (that uses only 30-35% of the production stream), but has been a staple for the cattle, poultry and pet food industries, paints, lubricants, and industrial uses such as paint thinners.

Cost of pickup and rendering varies...and in this highly cyclical industry, renderers sometimes get paid for pickups and sometimes credit their customers when commodity prices rise, such as in the 2008 high cycle that attracts fly by night operators and thieves.

"I've seen other cycles in the 70s and the 80s in which prices rose, but never as high as now. Today the prices are a phenomenal 30 cents a pound," reported Michael Koewler, Sacramento Rendering Company.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture handles licenses for rendering companies.

National Renderers Association

The National Renderers Association promotes the market of rendered products and provides information on the use of the products in the animal feed and technical industries.

They report that the North American rendering industry renders and recycles approximately 59 billion pounds of inedible animal by-products annually. The by-products’ sources vary from livestock and poultry carcasses plus offal, spent cooking fats and oils, fat trimmings, bones, other meat and poultry processed material considered unwholesome from slaughter and processing facilities, and waste material from supermarkets and restaurants.

Rendering Is More than Grease

"Rendering was green before green was green. We're the original recyclers," stated Michael Koewler of Sacramento Rendering company and the Pacific Coast Rendering Association. "California rendering companies have kept 2.1 billion pounds out of our landfills. And nationally, we've kept 50.5 billion pound of food and animal waste out of the landfills. The industry has been growing and serving for over 90 years!"

In 2006, California relied on the rendering industry to help with disaster response.

California Heat Wave Takes Toll

A two-week heat wave in California from mid- to late-July took its toll on both the human and animal populations, stretching resources, including rendering plants in the state’s central valley, to the breaking point.

At least 132 Californians died during the scorching summer heat wave. Within the animal population, it is reported that 20,552 dairy cows, over 10,738 calves, 800,000 chickens, and 200,000 turkeys succumbed to the sometimes 110-plus degree temperatures.

California’s Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) lists rendering as the preferred method for deadstock disposal. But the few rendering plants still operating in the heart of the state can only handle so much material... SOURCE: Newsline - October 2006 Render

This diversity of inedible animal by-products accounts for approximately 9 billion pounds of reclaimed animal fat annually. The use of rendered fat is a concentrated source of energy for animal and poultry feeds. Undoubtedly, the rendering process provides the most logical and environmentally acceptable approach for recycling animals and inedible material into usable commodities.


A list of Certified Rendering Plants are listed on the website of the National Rendering Association.

National Renderers Association

California Department of Food and Agriculture

CIWMB "Food Diversion Through Animal Feed"

CIWMG: Rendering Company Directory for California

CIWMB: Food Scrap Management Resources and Links

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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