Ask Eartha: Keep cooking oil out of the trash (column) |

Ask Eartha: Keep cooking oil out of the trash (column)

Eartha Steward
Ask Eartha
Deep fryer with boiling oil and nuggets
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto

Dear Eartha,

My husband and I just started selling food commercially at the local farmers markets. I was wondering what the best practices are for disposing of our used cooking oil?

— Jolene, Summit Cove

Jolene, I am so glad you brought up this question. There are so many different ways to dispose of or recycle oil that the subject can be confusing. You can recycle or compost used oil in any amount but can only put small amounts of it in the trash (utilizing the proper methods I will discuss in more detail below). Large amounts of used oil must be dealt with by a company certified to do so. Let’s take a look at the varying amounts of oil and how to deal with the different quantities.

Reuse, recycling or composting are the best practices for dealing with used cooking oil. Be sure that you have all the correct information before you choose your disposal method.

Approximately 2 quarts or less of used cooking oil can be either used or disposed of in a variety of ways. Consider reusing the oil a few times prior to disposing of it. Oil that has not been heated above 375 degrees is acceptable for reuse; just be sure to filter the food particles out of the oil before storing it. Once you are ready to get rid of the oil, first consider recycling or composting it. One method of recycling involves feeding the birds — mix the oil with birdseed and put it out for the birds. Insect-eating birds will be attracted to the feed and, as an added bonus, will begin eating the bugs in your garden nearby. In order to compost small amounts of residential use oil, you will need to be enrolled in High Country Conservation Center’s Food Scrap Recycling program. This program allows residents to bring up to 10 gallons a week of food scraps to either the Breckenridge or Frisco Recycling drop centers where they will be transported to the county’s composting facility and made into high-quality compost. The oil can be mixed in with the food scraps and dumped with the rest of your food waste. It is not recommended to put the used oil in home composting bins, as the fats can attract bears and other wildlife. Finally, if you absolutely need to put this small amount of oil in the trash, you can do so, but make sure the oil is absorbed into another material. Coffee grounds or kitty litter can be used to absorb the liquid and only then can it be thrown out. Liquids of any kind are not allowed in the landfill, so you will have to be sure that the oil is absorbed before throwing it in the trash.

More than 2 quarts of residential oil can be composted up at the Summit County Resource Allocation Park (SCRAP), otherwise known as the landfill, for a fee. This amount is more along the lines of if you were frying a turkey. In order to compost this amount of used oil, you will need to bring the oil to the SCRAP, pay your minimum $10 fee and bring it up to the compost pad yourself where you will then dump it into the food scrap pile. Alternatively, you could find a commercial restaurant in the area that is already recycling their used cooking oil, and see if they will allow you to dispose of your oil there. This large amount of oil will in no way be allowed in the trash.

Commercial amounts of cooking oil must be disposed of with a certified company. ClearEcos is a company out of Boulder that has regular commercial cooking oil pick up routes in Summit County. They collect the oil and recycle it into clean burning biodiesel for use in Colorado. This biodiesel also aids the environment by cutting carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. ClearEcos customers are provided with a 55 gallon collection bin, equipped with a filtration system for used fryer and cooking oils. There is a fee associated with utilizing ClearEcos’ services. Clear Water, a Breckenridge company, will dispose of grease-trap-style grease. However, they do not currently have methods in place for collecting used cooking oil. Commercial oil and grease is not allowed in the dumpsters.

Reuse, recycling or composting are the best practices for dealing with used cooking oil. Be sure that you have all the correct information before you choose your disposal method. Used cooking oil is not accepted at the free recycling drop sites, and you cannot throw liquid oil out with the trash. The aforementioned methods of disposal will ensure you are doing the right thing, however they are not the only methods out there. Feel free to do some more research and find various ways that used oil can be disposed of properly. Oil can be a valuable resource and there may be outfits out there that want your used oil. Thanks for this question on a tough subject, and keep disposing of waste properly.

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at

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