Oil’s well that ends well: How to dispose of cooking oil

Whilst the sink may seem like a quick and easy route for the disposal of used cooking oils, pouring greasy liquids down the plughole will wreak havoc on your drains, causing serious blockages as the oil solidifies.

A bowl of olive oil
How should we dispose of used cooking oils?

Down in the sewers, the greasy substances can combine with other products that shouldn’t have been flushed – like wet wipes – to form congealed clumps of fatty waste, known as ‘fatbergs’. Clogging up the pipes, fatbergs cause damage to not only your drains, but the whole local sewage system.

In 2013, a bus-sized fatberg was discovered in drains under Kingston, Surrey, after local residents complained that they couldn’t flush their toilets. Even larger fatbergs have been discovered since then – in September 2017, a colossal 250-metre lump of congealed fat and rubbish was found blocking the sewers in Whitechapel, London, taking nine weeks to remove. Thames Water reportedly spends £18 million per year removing blockages from the sewers – money that, just like the cooking oil, is going straight down the drain.

So, to avoid these greasy masses clogging our drainage systems and costing millions to remove, what should we be doing with used cooking oils?

In the home

Recycle Now, which is managed by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), advises that small amounts of cooking oils and fatty foods can be placed in your food waste bin, to be collected by your local food waste recycling service.

If your local council doesn’t provide food waste collection, then you should dispose of the oil in your kitchen bin, making sure that it’s cooled down first. If there’s just small quantities of grease left on a plate, you can soak this up with a paper towel, which can then go straight in the bin.

Recycle Now also suggests that larger amounts of cooled cooking oil should be placed in a sealed container, such as a leftover plastic pot or tub, before being thrown away with your general kitchen waste.

Cooking oil can also be recycled at many Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs)  – check with your local recycling centre for more information on their collection policies.

With UK households producing 73,000 tonnes of oil and fat waste in 2012, costing £170 million, according to WRAP, it’s vital that this waste is properly dealt with.

What should businesses do?

Businesses are legally required to dispose of used cooking oil appropriately, and can face significant fines for not complying with disposal regulations.

Chips cooking in a large pan of cooking oil
Used cooking oil can be recycled into biofuels

Cooking oil collection services, such as Olleco, help businesses to recycle their waste cooking oil to produce biofuels, which can be used to replace fossil fuels used for transport.

Olleco has a national network of depots and processing facilities, allowing businesses all over the country to recycle their oil. Once the cooking oil has been collected, it is then processed at one of Olleco’s three biorefinery sites, before being sent to the company’s biodiesel plant in Liverpool.

As well as working with some of the largest names in the food industry, such as McDonald’s UK and Arla Foods, Olleco has recently been awarded the Royal Warrant by Her Majesty the Queen – the first circular economy company to have been granted the royal seal of approval.

The Renewable Energy Association (REA) has recently highlighted the benefits of using cooking oils to produce biodiesel, affirming that they can achieve a carbon saving of around 88 per cent compared to fossil fuel diesel. Fuels made from cooking oils are also favourable to crop-based biofuels, which only produce carbon savings of around 50-60 per cent.

Gaynor Hartnell, Head of Renewable Transport Fuels at the REA, said: “We’re keen to explain just why this fuel is one of the best environmental solutions we have at the moment, with among the highest levels of greenhouse gas savings seen in road transport. Furthermore the industry is proposing even more rigor and transparency in auditing procedures.”

Although biofuels are already strictly audited for their sustainability, the industry is calling for increased rigour across the supply chain. At a meeting in Shanghai on 2 July, industry representatives proposed an even more robust auditing process, making sure that suppliers who are certified with the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC) can trace their biofuels back to the restaurant that generated the cooking oil.

So, as demand for cooking oil-based biofuels increases, it appears that more and more of the cars, buses and lorries on our roads could be powered by leftover frying oil from the chippy – a win-win situation, both for our drains and the environment. 

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