Wednesday, September 19, 2007

First oil, now garbage and darkness?

Every day seems to bring another report of restaurant fryer oil being turned into bio-diesel fuel for trucks and cars. The Friendly’s chain, for instance, now uses its in-house distribution system for what may some day be a closed-loop system. Right now, the trucks deliver supplies to units, as per the usual. But instead of heading back to their garages with empty cargo bays, the vehicles pick up used oil from the stores and haul it to a recycling center. The fat is turned into fuel, which is then used to power the trucks, offsetting their need for conventional diesel.

Pundits have remarked that the process would quickly become an industry norm if a chain giant like McDonald’s added the used oil from its restaurants to the flow. That quantum leap in scale would make the reprocessing commonplace, along with the retrofitting of vehicles to burn the recovered oil. Suddenly, a quirky green cottage industry becomes a sizeable source of alternative fuel.

But McDonald’s seems to be channeling its petroleum-saving endeavors in another direction, judging from British news reports. Today, 11 McDonald’s units on the other side of the Atlantic reportedly started shipping their garbage to energy-generation plants instead of landfills. The trash will be burned to churn out electrical power for 130 buildings in their area, according to the local media. There’s already talk across the pond of rolling the program to every McD’s restaurant in the United Kingdom.

The initiative offers a double benefit: No McDonald’s trash flowing into landfills, and less fossil fuel firing the turbines of power plants.

McDonald’s is also experimenting in Britain with solar panels, wind-powered generators and new cardboard recycling programs, according to news reports. Some noted that the chain is largely blocked from recycling its waste because many centers won’t touch refuse that could be contaminated with food.

Meanwhile, new green ideas continue to be hatched here in the colonies, from operators big and small. The latest from the West Coast: A proposal in San Francisco to have restaurants join residences and other businesses in turning off all their lights between 8 and 9 p.m. on Oct. 20, or during the height of the Friday rush. Lights Out San Francisco is patterned after a one-hour blackout that was coordinated in Sydney, Australia during March. The voluntary effort was estimated to lesson carbon dioxide production by 24 tons.

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