Thom Larkin | Daily TidingsMichael Koger, 25, drains grease from Southern Oregon University's Stevenson Union on Monday morning.

The dining halls will be a little bit greener when Southern Oregon University students return from spring break next week, but few will likely notice.

Footprint Recycling, a biodiesel producer from Humboldt County, Calif., began a contract this week to pick up all waste vegetable oil from the university and turn it into biodiesel.

"This is one more way we can make this cafeteria a little greener," said Cami Picollo, director of residential dining. "We create a lot of wastes, but whatever we can do to reduce that waste, I'm happy about."

In the past, the university paid Southern Oregon Tallow to haul away excess grease, where it was turned into animal feed additives. After Southern Oregon Tallow went out of business in 2006, the university saw mixed results with the smaller operations and individuals who wanted to turn the oil into biodiesel, Picollo said.

With Footprint, pick-up of the clean vegetable oil is free, but the company charges to clean grease traps and recycle oil scraped from grills.

"It's in our best interest to create as little waste oil as possible because we have to pay for that," Picollo said. "It's definitely a greener operation than anything we've done before."

Waste vegetable oil recycling is the latest step in a university effort to reduce the school's environmental impact, she said. Nearly 90 percent of plastic ware in the dining hall is biodegradable, and about half of the paper products are now made from compostable sugar cane fiber. Last year, students also voted for a green energy fee to offset 100 percent of the university's energy consumption through the purchase of Green Tags, or renewable energy certificates.

'Grease is popular'

Despite the four-hour-plus drive to Ashland, the trip is still worth it for Footprint Recycling because of the high demand for biodiesel, said Andrew Cooper, president of the company.

"Grease is very popular," Cooper said. "A lot of people want to make their own biodiesel, and Footprint can't survive just off of Humboldt County."

The company collects 30,000 gallons a year from Southern Oregon, about one-third of its total business, Cooper said.

Picollo estimated the university would add about 40 gallons per week, or just more than 2,000 gallons per year.

One gallon of oil translates almost exactly to one gallon of biodiesel, which sells for around $3.50 per gallon, Cooper said. In addition to the university, the company collects from about 15 Ashland restaurants and 80 total in the Rogue Valley.

"It's not paying us very much," he said, but the low salary is made up for with the sense of doing social responsibility and keeping oil out of the waste stream. All of the company's collection trucks run on the biodiesel that it produces, and many of the employees drive biodiesel cars.

"We modify the fuel so you don't have to modify your car," said Michael Koger, who cleaned the grease traps at the Stevenson Union on Monday.

He didn't drive a biodiesel car when he started working for the company three years ago, but he does now, he said.

"It just seemed like a cool thing," he said. "We're using a waste product to make a new product."

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The grease in these bins at the Cascade Food Complex at SOU is being changed into usuable biodiesel.

Thom Larkin | Daily Tidings



Staff writer Julie French can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .