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Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Ultimate Recycling Project: Soiled Oil

The Mayors Panel on Sustainable Communities explored innovative ways to Green towns. Municipalities in attendance were Florham Park, Madison, Morristown, Westwood, Woodbridge and South Orange. The Honorable Mayor John Birkner of Westwood, NJ described a most admirable and progressive project undertaken by his community, a program that he called: The Ultimate Recycling Project.

As he saw it, a straightforward way for a community to jumpstart their greening efforts, is to strengthen their recycling program. So, Birkner increased pickups, encouraged residents to drop-off directly at the center, and frequently recognized increases in recycling deposits. Catalyzed by the community effort, Birkner challenged the Westwood community again.

He asked himself and constituency: what if we can recycle commercial vegetable oil as fuel? As an experiment, Birkner and his trucks gathered soiled oil from local venues (saving owners money who would normally have to pay for proper disposal of materials). Using a spaghetti strainer and cheese cloth, the oil was separated from food waste. As the final piece to the experiment, a test subject was selected. The obvious candidate: the recycling trucks themselves!

“We broke all the myths,” said Birkner. “It didn’t damage the engine or anything like that. We proved we could do it.” After realizing the potential of this discovery, it was time to figure out how exactly Soiled Oil, could be brought to scale (unfortunately, a spaghetti strainer and cheese cloth aren’t sustainable solutions). After discovering a neglected, fifteen-year-old centrifuge in county storage, Birkner volunteered to take the property off the counties hands. Once restored, the centrifuge enabled the removal of moisture, glycerin and other elements from the kitchen oil.

As a result of this program, all three Westwood recycling trucks run on Soiled Oil. Additionally, as a shared service, Westwood accepts, refines and supplies Soiled Oil for neighboring towns, “…reducing dependence on fossil fuels, and reducing the idea that drilling and disturbing our coastlines is the only way to power America,” said Birkner.

Mayor Birkner and Westwood…kudos!

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