When you think of recycling, your mind probably jumps to plastic bottles or used paper. However, there is one aspect of recycling that not a lot of people know they can take advantage of: recycling cooking grease. Cooking oils and fats have a larger impact on the environment than you may realize. You can take one more step further into going green and caring about the earth by taking the time to send your oil and grease to a recycling plant.
Cooking oil is natural, so how does it harm the environment?
Cooking grease, whether it is derived from animals or from plants, harms habitats and water sources because of the nature of the oil itself. Oil floats on water and is not easily dissolved in normal, natural solvents. Also, it is sensitive to temperature. When you toss your oil in the trash or pour it down the sink, the following are just a few of the consequences that result:
- Warm oil can cool and harden as it makes its way into city infrastructure. The oil coats pipes and created blockages that require expensive yearly maintenance-- necessitating the use of more resources to fix the problems. Pipes and pumps would last longer if oil was not dumped into city plumbing.
- Oil that is dumped in landfills or even your backyard can run off with rain into local ponds, rivers, and streams. Vegetable oil spills are harmful, much like petroleum spills. Although not as toxic, the oil coats the water, decreasing water oxygenation. Eventually, fish and other water-dependent animals can die. Birds, such as ducks, can still get vegetable oil in their feathers that will become difficult to remove. Beavers and otters can actually die from having a coat of oil over their fur, as it affects their ability to regulate their body temperature.
- Oil can increase the chance of fire in wetland areas, as well as gum up shorelines and disturb wetland plant growth. Many animals depend on these plants for food.
- Old oil attracts mice and other vermin to populated areas, requiring the use of hazardous poisons and chemicals to get rid of pests. Old cooking oils, especially animal fats, have strong odors that will draw animals to areas they otherwise would not go, which can also disturb the natural food chain of an established eco-system.
So, what are the benefits that come from recycling oil instead of washing and tossing?
Local grease recycling companies in your area will use old cooking oil, even oil from restaurants, to create a biofuel that can be used by cars and other machines. This provides double benefit to the environment: avoiding the hazards of washing it down the drain or throwing it out while also providing alternative fuel options to preserve the earth's natural fossil fuels. Any oil made into fuel is oil that is not settling into groundwater or floating in local wetlands.
Furthermore, once cooking oil is recycled into biofuel, it becomes much less harmful to the environment even if it is spilled. It naturally biodegrades into useable nutrients. However, this does not mean that the oil should be dumped into the environment, because it still is a flammable substance that can power an engine when it is burned. Any oil spill is a worry, but the bottom line is that it is much better to spill a biofuel than standard petroleum-derived fuels.
So, the next time you are cooking some bacon or deep-frying some fritters, think twice about rinsing the oil down the sink or throwing it into your backyard. Instead, contact a recycling company in your area to get more info and see what recycling options are available to you.