San Francisco is retiring its Greasecycle program, which collects used cooking oil from restaurants, after 12 years in operation.

SFPUC to retire grease recycling program after 12 years

After 12 years, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission will retire its highly successful recycling program that picks up used cooking oil from restaurants, saying the private market has stepped in to fill the need.

SFGreasecycle, which launched in 2007, will come to an end on April 1.

The commission praised the program’s success Tuesday and did not object to its closure.

Karri Ving, business services manager with the SFPUC’s wastewater enterprise, explained to the commission that the program was launched in 2007 “as a response to restaurants complaining that they had no way of disposing of their cooking oil.”

“Sewer operation crews were often diverted from preventative maintenance and instead sent to reduce blockages in the sewer system from cooking oil ending up down the drain from residents and restaurants,” Ving said.

The program started with having SFPUC employees “actually hand collect cooking oil from restaurants and residences and convert this cooking into biodiesel which was then converted and brought back to San Francisco’s City Fleet for many years,” Ving said.

More than 1,100 restaurants participated in the program, about 35 percent of The City’s establishments, according to the SFPUC website. The program collected more than 3.3 million gallons of used cooking oil. generated more than $5.4 millions in revenue from selling the cooking oil to biodiesel manufacturers and “reduced 49 million lbs. of CO2 emissions through production of biodiesel,” the agency states.

Ving said that the program “gained national recognition time and again as a very pro-business, pro-environment success story.”

But since its launch, she said a number of things have changed, including the growth of a new private market of grease haulers willing to pick up cooking oil from restaurants for free.

“Through this effort there were born a number of small businesses in San Francisco that are in the grease hauling businesses now that are very responsible, very regulated and they do collect and convert the cooking oil to biodiesel and other fuels and developed a long track record for this activity.”

“We found ourselves now competing with these very businesses that are doing the right thing,” she said.

A decision was made to “step back and hand over these activities to the private sector.”

“We are intending on repurposing our vehicles for sewer operation crews and repurposing our four crews for catch basin cleaning and other preventative maintenance activities.”

Francesca Vietor, vice president of the commission, praised the program as an example of how The City must protect the planet by creating “a market for waste.”

“Before the establishment of the SFGreasecycle program, there were very few commercial grease haulers who would pick up used cooking oil from [food service establishments] for free, leading to illegal or unsafe practices such as dumping grease down the drain, or stockpiling it in basements and back alleys,” the SFPUC’s website said, which lists four regional companies who pick up the cooking oil and recycle it.

Other advances since the program launched was the Board of Supervisors passage of the Fats, Oils and Grease (FOG) law in February 2011 requiring restaurants to install restaurants and other food service establishments that cook food to install grease capturing equipment.

The agency said at the time that “San Francisco has a big grease problem” and these substances were “clogging the city’s sewers and costing us all a lot of money — over $3.5 million each year to respond to grease-clogged pipe.”

SFPUC’s general manager Harlan Kelly noted Tuesday that even though they will not be picking up the cooking oil from the establishments any longer “we still have our inspectors to make sure that they have grease traps and things of that nature.”


Former mayor and current Gov. Gavin Newsom was on hand in 2013 for a demonstration of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s Greasecycle program along with Lisa Jackson, center, then-head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner)

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