Tony Winnicker, spokesman for the PUC, explains that one of the biggest problems in San Francisco's sewer system is the buildup of cooking oil poured down drains in restaurants and homes all over the city, which clogs pipes the same way it clogs arteries. "We could collect that, we could convert that into biofuel, and use it to power the city fleet," he says, thus reducing the city's use of gasoline. Besides, biodiesel technology is already proven, says Winnicker. (Perhaps you've noticed the recent upsurge in beat-up Mercedes trailing the smug aroma of french fries and sporting bumper stickers that read "Biodiesel: No War Required.")
The Commission will start in February by recruiting restaurants for a small pilot program. The PUC already has a relationship with the local food industry, because it's been nagging restaurants for years about installing grease traps in sinks. Under the pilot program, it'll start a new campaign of nagging restaurant workers to empty the grease trap into a recycling bucket instead of the trash can.
That's just the beginning, however. Starry-eyed grease enthusiasts at the PUC envision a day in the not-too-distant future when every resident and business owner can collect his own nasty, congealed grease in a little bin perhaps colored canola oil-yellow. The collection system hasn't been worked out yet: If curbside collection doesn't seem practical, the Commission may set up neighborhood drop-off sites. Funding already in the bag includes $1.3 million for the project's start-up costs and $500,000 for a three-year marketing campaign.
If the project really catches on, Winnicker says the PUC would like to build its own biodiesel processing plant. If restaurants and residents participate in the project in large numbers, the city could collect 100,000 gallons of waste oil per month enough to keep a plant running full time. "[Grease recycling] has never been done on this scale before," Winnicker says, "but it's doable."
In New York City, the mayor recently banned trans fats in all restaurants. But in S.F., on the cutting edge of progressive thinking, the city is anticipating our continued hankering for deep-fried Twinkies and fast food. Phat.