Americans, we often hear, are not getting less fat, but theyre certainly getting less for fat than they used to, and thats creating problems for restaurateurs here.
The two companies that pick up and recycle restaurant grease in the Inland Northwest last month told restaurateers they would start charging for that service, because the price they get for reprocessed grease has, well, slid.
An estimated 750 restaurants in the Spokane-Coeur dAlene area now face potentially higher operating costs because of the change.
Restaurant greasewhich is a byproduct of cooking methods such as deep-fat fryingis collected, purified, then resold in the U.S. and abroad for use in the production of animal feed. The U.S. last year produced more than 3 billion pounds of recycled, or yellow, grease, the majority of which came from restaurants, according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. The other predominant type of fat in the market is tallow, which comes from butchers trimmings.
In years past, companies such as the two grease recyclers hereBaker Commodities Inc., a Los Angeles-based company that has a Spokane-area recycling office and rendering plant, and the Grease Spot, in Coeur dAlenedidnt charge for their grease-collection service. In fact, they often paid restaurants a small amount each month for their waste grease, restaurateurs here say.
The price that companies such as Baker and the Grease Spot are getting for the recycled fat, however, has fallen to 6 cents a pound, less than half what the stuff fetched just two years ago, says Scott Wessling, owner of the Grease Spot.
Ray Kelly, executive vice president of Baker, says, The price is probably as low as its been in the last 20 years.
Therefore, both Baker Commodities and the Grease Spot recently started charging restaurants a flat fee of $30 a month for grease recyclinga fact that has angered some restaurateurs.
We dont make that much (money), says Mike Green, owner of Idaho Rubys Bistro, in Coeur dAlene. Moreover, Green says, hes had his grease container emptied just once in six months, and doesnt think he should have to pay for regular monthly service.
I wouldnt mind paying $30 if and when my barrel was full, he says.
Dave Hooke, who operates five Senor Froggy Mexican Foods restaurants in the Spokane area, says Baker Commodities plans to charge him $30 a month for each of his five restaurants adding another $150 a month to his operating costs.
Were getting hit by so many things, says Hooke, who is the immediate past president of the Washington Restaurant Association. My first reaction was to try to find an alternative.
The fact is, however, that there arent readily available alternatives.
Monica Hairston, disposal operations supervisor for the Spokane Regional Solid Waste System, says restaurant grease currently is not accepted at either the waste-to-energy plant or Spokanes two waste-transfer stations.
The solid waste system would consider taking such material in the future, she says, but only with strict guidelines about how it could be disposed.
Kelly, at Baker Commodities, says most garbage haulers wont knowingly take the stuff, either.
It creates a real mess in their trucks, he says. Their trucks are not sealed. Obviously, if you spill grease on the highway, its going to create a lot of problems.
Green, at Idaho Rubys Bistro, says he told Baker Commodities to come pick up its collection barrel, but, Now I dont know what Im going to do. They know theyve got us where they want us.
Kelly and Wessling, of the Grease Spot, say it brings them no joy to make restaurateurs pay for their grease recycling, but they dont have a choice.
Its basically a commodity, Wessling says. The markets are structured by foreign supply and demand.
Bumper soybean and corn crops here in the U.S. and large oil crops elsewhere in the world have increased the supply of alternative oils, and thereby have reduced demand for the recycled yellow grease, Kelly says.
Wessling, who has operated in Coeur dAlene since 1991, says the change in his industry is notable: Weve been reduced to trash men instead of recyclers, which is what weve always been.
Subscribe today to our free E-Newsletters!SUBSCRIBE