Darden Restaurants Recycles 7.3 Million Pounds of Fry Oil

Nov 16, 2012 6:30 AM ET

By Brandon Tidwell

As we celebrate America Recycles Day this week, it is a great time to develop some creative new ways to combat unnecessary waste and to reignite our interest in the three Rs we learned in grade school: reduce, reuse and recycle.

How much waste are we actually talking about? Try 4.4 pounds of trash a day for every American, on average. The Environmental Protection Agency figures that more than half of our national waste – and that’s 136 million tons – ends up in our nation’s landfills. And it ranges from newspapers and food waste to electronics and all of the other things we dispose of every day.

As the public continues to become increasingly aware of our major waste issues, locally and globally, many companies are stepping up their waste-reduction efforts. As a result, they are helping our planet and winning approvals from consumers, customers and their employees.

In 2010, for instance, a Darden Restaurants employee sparked a key waste-reduction initiative in the nation’s largest full-service restaurant company’s efforts to send zero waste to landfills. He urged Darden to recycle used fry oil. Since then, Darden has recycled more than 7.3 million pounds of fry oil. Darden’s program in 2011 recycled 20 million gallons, 100 percent of its discarded fry oil. And, the demand for fryer oil means it commands a price on commodities markets four times what it was a decade ago.

As a result, the recycled oil becomes an ingredient in biodiesel, animal food, soap and other items. Its reuse is just one way Darden is working to reduce the amount of waste we send to landfills. It’s simply the right thing to do.

Many companies are leading the way in turning waste into opportunity. For example, in 2011, Walmart diverted more than 268,000 gallons of yellow grease from rotisserie chicken and, of that total, more than 100,000 gallons were recycled into biodiesel fuel.

So, how can you lend a hand and trim the waste you and your colleagues create today? Here’s a few quick and easy ways to start the process:

  • Examine what materials and products are being wasted; what could be reused or recycled? Conduct a company-wide audit of the materials you use every day.
  • Check out online resources to determine what kinds of products are being recycled or reused. Try to find some responsible and reliable regional companies that can help you find waste solutions.
  • Test and learn. Some of the best ideas start out small, so it’s helpful to create a task force to get the ball rolling and determine areas of opportunity. Honest evaluation is also key – don’t be afraid to look back at what you’ve done with a critical eye and start over from scratch if it’s not working.
  • With a foundation in place, determine how you can take it to scale and execute a program that delivers results.

Yesterday’s America Recycles Day may have come and gone without much recognition from most, but let’s not miss the chance to take a closer look at reducing and reusing that 4.4 pounds of waste we create each day.

Brandon Tidwell is Manager of Sustainability for Darden Restaurants, Inc. Brandon is responsible for the development and implementation of corporate sustainability strategies and policies across all of Darden, integrating environmental considerations into the operations, culture, and supply chain, which includes more than 1,500 suppliers in 30 countries. Brandon is a candidate for a Master’s in Business Administration at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business. He holds a master’s degree in Social Work from Baylor and a certificate in Philanthropy from New York University.