12 February 2019

Leading the Way: Cities Recycle Cooking Waste into Clean, Renewable Diesel

Published in Releases and news

Leading the Way

Written by Jeremy Baines

Local communities are searching for ways to make a more sustainable impact on the world. It’s become a global rallying cry in some areas, with key players seeing a major opportunity to do the right thing for the environment—and for the bottom lines of businesses and local governments.

The state of California is a leader in this space, aiming to remove as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as it emits by 2045.[1] Yet, it doesn’t just fall on the shoulders of policymakers. Everyone who lives and works in the state can help by backing initiatives that proactively limit the impact of waste and pursue more sustainable solutions.

One approach is to support a circular economy, a concept that revolves around converting waste into a sustainable product. An example application is converting used cooking oil (UCO) into renewable diesel. The circular economy process and benefits in this instance involves these steps:

  • Collecting UCO and other food waste in California cities
  • Converting waste feedstock into a high-quality alternative to fossil diesel
  • Improving air quality by reducing emissions of fine particulates that can lead to respiratory issues, thus boosting the quality of life and longevity of local residents
  • Supporting local jobs and value creation through increasing the benefit of the UCO and other food waste   
  • Reducing maintenance and operational costs for commercial fleets and for local governments that switch to renewable diesel for first responders, buses and municipal service vehicles

Embracing a circular economy is not a radical idea. In 2016, 1.4 billion pounds of vegetable oil were converted into energy.[2] That was only the beginning. By continuing to add more renewable diesel into the mix of transportation fuels, California residents and people across the United States can benefit from a greener, more sustainable future. To make this ambition a reality, cities must depend on the right partnerships.

Who Will Lead? Cities with Partners.

Oil that’s been used to fry chicken and potatoes already powers some Class 8 long-haul trucks that deliver fresh produce and other food to cities in California and beyond. Around the world, about 1.25 billion gallons of renewable diesel are produced each year.[3] Within the next seven years, that amount is expected to increase by 60 percent,[4] given the demand for low-carbon-intensity alternatives to fossil diesel. Cities are well positioned to develop partnerships with private businesses to lead this change, because local governments are responsible for waste management and have the authority to require all UCO to be collected.

Many California cities already mandate UCO recycling because the municipalities (and the residents and businesses whose taxes support them) have a direct stake: They can avoid the cost of repairs to sewer systems that occur when cooking waste clogs pipes. They also can reduce or eliminate costs to build and maintain landfills. Moreover, in today’s divided political climate, cities can act more nimbly than the federal government to implement laws and regulations that replace the conventional economy and its make/use/dispose model of consumption. Policies that require recycling of UCO help increase the value of cooking waste for businesses and make it less attractive to continue to rely on fossil diesel alone.

Additional collaborators are needed and, fortunately, there are shared interests to drive city governments and business leaders to work together:

  • National companies including restaurant chains and supermarkets that generate waste in many states can become large-scale suppliers of UCO and other food waste.
  • Processing businesses can expand operations to buy the UCO and food waste from collectors and process it into feedstock.
  • Refiners can combine the feedstock with other raw materials to manufacture renewable diesel.
  • Distributors then can deliver the fossil alternative back to users in the public and private fleets in California cities.

A large, closed-loop circular economy is ideal for cities and the fleets that serve them going forward. During the past decade, Neste has road-tested and proved the circular economy model while becoming the world’s largest producer of renewable diesel refined from waste and residue. In its approach, Neste buys waste from collectors and processors from across California and the United States and other countries. Then, Neste converts the feedstock through an advanced refining process to create Neste MY Renewable Diesel™. In the spring of 2018, Neste sold its one billionth gallon of renewable diesel. As a result, fleets operating largely in California eliminated 7 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. That’s the equivalent of removing 1.6 million passenger vehicles from the road for one year.[5]

What’s Needed? A Circular Economy That’s Clean and Profitable.

In California, two-thirds of residents support the state enacting its own climate-change policies above and beyond federal mandates, and 56 percent favor the state’s existing cap-and-trade policy designed to encourage reductions in the use of high-carbon-emitting fossil fuel.[6]

That’s just one of the reasons cities in California should encourage, facilitate and mandate conversion of waste into a direct replacement fuel that requires no blending and is compatible with all diesel engines. Beverly Hills, Pasadena, San Leandro, Pittsburg, Pinole and Hercules are among those that switched some buses, fire trucks and other municipal service vehicles from fossil diesel to Neste MY Renewable Diesel produced from 100 percent renewable and sustainable raw materials. This premium fuel cuts greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80 percent, carbon monoxide by 24 percent and fine particulates by 33 percent, all while enhancing fleet performance and efficiency.[7]

According to a 2018 report from the World Economic Forum, “by working to accelerate the transition to the circular economy, cities will enhance sustainability and minimize the economic, social and environmental impacts of the current ways in which we extract, consume and dispose of resources.”[8]

That’s a big role for cities to play, but it’s not unrealistic. Communities in California and elsewhere are on track to succeed when they establish innovative partnerships that differentiate businesses by creating more value for consumers throughout the diesel supply chain. More cities—their residents, local government leaders and businesses—can set a greener example when they decide to move forward together.

Jeremy Baines is vice president of sales for North America and the acting general manager at Neste US, Inc. Visit NesteMY.com for more information.


[1] Brittany Shoot, “The World’s Fifth-Largest Economy, California, Just Committed to 100% Carbon-Free Power by 2045,” Fortune, September 10, 2018, http://fortune.com/2018/09/10/california-governor-carbon-free-power-energy/(accessed December 11, 2018).

[2] Eleanor Cummins, “The grease recycling industry feeds on your city’s oil underbelly,” Popular Science, January 16, 2018, https://www.popsci.com/grease-recycling-disposal-fatberg (accessed December 11, 2018).

[3] Joe Gershen, “What’s the Story with Renewable Diesel,” Render Magazine, February 2018, http://pubs.rendermagazine.com/2018-02/pubData/source/Render_Feb18.pdf (accessed December 11, 2018).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Betsy Lillian, “Neste Celebrates 1 Billion Gallons of Renewable Diesel,” Next Gen Transportation, May 2, 2018, https://ngtnews.com/neste-celebrates-1-billion-gallons-of-renewable-diesel (accessed December 12, 2018).

[6] Casey Tolan, “Poll: Californians support climate change policies, want state leaders to do more,” The Mercury News, July 29, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/arielcohen/2018/09/21/californias-new-100-green-energy-target-may-do-more-harm-than-good/#21879d40675e (accessed December 12, 2018).

[7] Neste, “Reduced emissions,” https://www.neste.com/companies/products/renewable-fuels/neste-my-renewable-diesel/reduced-emissions (accessed December 12, 2018).

[8] World Economic Forum and PwC, “Circular Economy in Cities: Evolving the model for a sustainable urban future,” 2018, http://www3.weforum.org/docs/White_paper_Circular_Economy_in_Cities_report_2018.pdf (accessed December 12, 2018).