Friday, March 11, 2011

Greening the Restaurant Industry: Deep Fat Fryers + Free Market Capitalism = Clogged Toilets

Somewhere Adam Smith is having a hard time finding a working toilet and he doesn't know why.

Could it be fryer grease from the restaurants in free market heaven is clogging the sewers?

If you can believe anything you read in the news, that seems to be the case in heavenly Richmond, BC. Here's the headline:

Restaurant grease buildup costly to Richmond

How costly?
The City of Richmond has been handed a $480,000 repair bill — one of the biggest to be borne in Metro Vancouver — this week to fix a sewer main that ruptured after being clogged with grease.
and later on
Metro Vancouver — along with local municipalities — already spends up $2 million each year to clean up clogged and backed-up sewer pipes.
and lastly
It's estimated it will cost Metro Vancouver $1 million per kilometre to rehabilitate this sewer, and it will take 10 to 12 years to complete the work.
Paragraph two makes it clear:
The city suspects restaurants were responsible for the grease buildup
Wow! Richmond, a true rising star in BC's food culture, is destroying the civic infrastructure with old grease.

While the economic (let alone the ecological) toll of broken sewers is all kinds of fun to think about, even more fun is reflecting on the broken broke-ass broken-ness of our economy. What is it about free market capitalism as practised in British Columbia that some entrepreneur, multi-national fuel conglomerate or government agency isn't collecting all this grease (before it hits the sewers) and turning it into a magical liquid that can fuel engines?

What's crazier still is that converting fryer grease into bio-diesel is not a new science. "The history of bio-diesel began in 1880..."

Here's where a little centralisation can come in handy.

Let's take all the above costs and, simply for the sake of argument, call that number (ha!) One Million Dollars. Sure, the total costs will probably run somewhere in the tens to hundreds of millions, as initial estimates for large scale projects sometimes don't reflect reality--but for now, let's pretend a million bucks appeared like Manna from heaven, ear marked for a bio-diesel project, despite the anti-incentives like ending tax-exemption for bio-diesel in 2009.

With $1,000,000 could "we"

1. Train restaurant employees to collect fryer grease, an not pour it down the drain?

(This is perhaps the largest hurdle facing bio-diesel production from fryer grease)

2. Collect the bio fryer grease/transport to refinery?

3. Refine this grease and use it to run vehicles?

4. Donate surplus bio-diesel, as the ultimate profit is realised by the reduced stress the grease places on the sewer system--an ultimately unknown number that is larger than any of us realise.

It's like traditional Chinese medicine--you pay the doctor to keep you well, to maintain the body--the doctor doesn't get paid when you're sick.

"We" should be paying to keep the sewers free of fryer grease to avoid the much more costly repairs. When grease is kept out of the sewers, it can be refined, re-used and monitized. When it is thrown down the sewer, it becomes a gigantic tax-suck and eco-disaster.

Back to market centralisation, could the restaurants in the Okanagan collect their own fryer-grease and some how monitize it for the benefit of the restaurants in the Okanagan? Wouldn't that be a fun emoticon-insignia to put on your menu? How long before everyone wants a "We belong to the Okanagan Fry Grease Refinery Society because that's just how hip and evolved the restaurant culture is in the Okanagan" emoticon next to their deep fried offerings! Can stickers for the window be far behind?

Even if all that theoretical Okanagan bio-diesel was given away, don't you think it could be a wildly huge marketing coup for the region and its restaurants?

I wonder if the new prison will make bio diesel from their fryer grease?


  1. Just a note: McLeod by products is a company from the Okanagan (Armstrong?) that does just that...FOR FREE!!! (250) 838 7007

    They will come and take away your grease. They are doing so well at it that they will provide you with a receptacle for the grease and they don't even charge you a deposit for the container. We may not be able to turn lead into gold, but someone is doing it with grease.

    How long will it take them to sell it back to us to run the winery tractors?

  2. But that's the thing...why are the producers of "crude oil" *giving* it to refiners, who then sell it?

    How much does it cost to refine fry grease? How much fry grease does one need to refine before the equipment is paid for? Why aren't winery restaurants (with tractors) refining it themselves?

    As with booze couldn't the revenue from fry grease (theoretically) defray food menu prices?