The city of Ashland is making it easy for restaurants on the downtown plaza to get their used vegetable oil turned into biodiesel.

The city of Ashland is making it easy for restaurants on the downtown plaza to get their used vegetable oil turned into biodiesel.

A nondescript city-owned building across Ashland Creek from the restaurants houses not only public restrooms, but an area where all the surrounding restaurants can drop off their used oil.

A lot of different companies and individuals are in competition to get used oil that they can turn into biodiesel, Louie's Restaurant and Bar Owner Melissa Jensen said.

She has tried them out in the past, but decided the city's disposal system is best.

The city contracts with Footprint Recycling for removal of the oil. The Arcata, Calif.-based company had to go through a competitive bidding process to get the job.

It is paying the city government 50 cents for every gallon of waste oil it collects, according to a new contract that went into effect on May 19. The company has been providing the service for a few years.

Footprint Recycling collects about 440 gallons of used oil every six weeks from the plaza restaurants, said Andrew Cooper, founder and president of the company.

Ashland-wide, it gathers between 1,200 gallons to 1,800 gallons every six weeks, depending on the season, he said. Footprint Recycling, which is employee-owned, services 20 restaurants in Ashland and about 200 in the Rogue Valley, Cooper said.

"They're wonderful," Jensen said of Footprint Recycling's staff. "Another bonus, along with it being the right thing to do, is they come and clean out our grease traps. You just can't beat it."

For busy restaurant owners, the automatic service makes life easier.

"I wish all my vendors and the moving parts that it takes to keep Louie's running worked as easily and as painlessly," Jensen said. "It's a great service the city has partnered with Footprint Recycling to provide. It's just a blessing — and it makes me feel good."

Greenleaf Restaurant Owner Daniel Greenblatt shared Jensen's positive view of the service.

"I think it's great. I'm thrilled that we can reuse our cooking oil. It's very convenient," he said.

Alex's Plaza Restaurant and Bar had been giving its oil to a person who was using it to power his own vehicle, but recently decided to switch to the city-provided service because Footprint Recycling offers regular grease trap cleaning, Alex's Kitchen Manager Ian Killingsworth said.

Footprint Recycling puts used cooking oil through a process that reduces its viscosity and makes it more flammable, resulting in a fuel that can be used in any diesel engine without engine modifications, according to the company.

Biodiesel is a natural solvent that breaks up engine deposits and prevents future deposits from forming. It provides extra lubrication that will extend engine life. However, fuel filters must be changed more frequently than with regular diesel, according to Footprint Recycling.

Biodiesel is a renewable resource that releases fewer air pollutants than diesel, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy have found.

Not all of the downtown plaza restaurants are using the cooking oil collection and conversion service provided by the city of Ashland and Footprint Recycling.

But demand for used cooking oil has become so high, those restaurants are not wasting the oil.

Black Sheep Pub and Restaurant Chef Dawn Stickmeyer said private individuals pick up the restaurant's oil for use as biodiesel.

"I think it's fantastic. I wish we could put stickers on people's cars: 'Fueled by Black Sheep cooking oil.' It's nice to know it's being used and not going to waste," Stickmeyer said.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.