Greasing the wheels

Going Green
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  January 31, 2013

In the six months since we wrote about them last, the folks at Portland's Garbage to Garden curbside composting program have seen impressive growth. The service, which provides members with convenient, weekly, food-scrap pick-up (plus finished-compost delivery if requested), now boasts more than 500 participants in Greater Portland and has diverted more than 50 tons of food waste from landfills and incinerators since August. And while GTG founders Tyler Frank and Sable Sanborn used to truck food waste to a remote site in Durham, they don't have to go so far anymore: They now add it to the heap at Benson Farm in Gorham — the largest composting operation in the state.

Now, GTG is launching a new partnership with another local eco-friendly start-up, Maine Standard Biofuels. They're calling it "Grease to Gas" — the region's first-ever residential fats and oils recycling pick-up program. Starting February 1, GTG members (who pay $11 per month for the service) will be able to request an additional 32-ounce container for their cooled cooking fats, oils, and grease. These small buckets, set out on the curb alongside GTG compost buckets on scheduled pick-up days, will be delivered to and processed at the Maine Standard Biofuels facility off Riverside Street.

Not only will Grease to Gas participation cut down on the amount of used frying oil and bacon grease poured down Portland drains (which can clog pipes and municipal wastewater systems) or thrown away in coffee cans, the program will capture and recycle a renewable resource that's often overlooked.

At Maine Standard Biofuels, which has been in business since 2006 serving about 500 restaurants mostly in Maine and New Hampshire, waste oils are collected, purified, and transferred to storage tanks. The end product is American Society for Testing and Materials-certified biodiesel, which can be used as a home-heating fuel. The plant currently processes about 200,000 gallons of biodiesel per year, according to founder Jarmin Kaltsas; it has the capacity to handle 1.5 million gallons with minor modifications.

Biodiesel is a growing industry in the United States, where nearly 1.1 billion gallons of the stuff were produced in 2011. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, use of biodiesel as a petroleum-diesel replacement (in trucks and cars) or instead of traditional heating oil reduces particulate and carbon dioxide emissions, improves local water quality, and — at least in the case of Maine Standard Biofuels — is economically advantageous. As of Monday afternoon, B20 home-heating fuel (a mix of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent oil) was $3.43 per gallon at Maine Standards Biofuel; pure petroleum-derived fuel at Cash Energy was 10 cents more expensive per gallon. (Side-note: Why didn't I research this article one week ago — before I ordered heating oil????) Not to mention, as Kaltsas points out, so-called Bioheat (the trademarked term for a standardized mix of heating oil and biofuel) is actually better for your furnace because it burns relatively cleanly.

To capitalize on the local partnership and further encourage biodiesel awareness, Grease to Gas participants will receive a five-cent-per-gallon discount on home heating oil from Maine Standards Biofuel. Meanwhile, Garbage to Garden is in the process of purchasing a diesel-fueled truck, which they will run off biodiesel.

And don't forget about the soap. One byproduct of biodiesel production is glycerine, which Maine Standard Biofuels turns into its Wicked Strong Soap — a powerful degreaser that Garbage to Garden will use to wash its compost and grease bins. For these two companies working to minimize the impact of our household waste, truly nothing is wasted.

CORRECTION This story has been updated to correct the description of Maine Standard Biofuels' business.

  Topics: The Editorial Page , Portland, environment, Going green,  More more >
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