Open Letter to the City of Austin

Last night, I spoke to the ZWAC, a commission put together by the Austin City Council to discuss issues related to the Universal Recycling Ordinance. We’ve long had problems servicing food trailers.

Here’s what I said:

Good evening, and thank you for the opportunity to speak. My name is Jason Burroughs and I am the owner of DieselGreen Fuels. Since 2006, we have been collecting used cooking oil from restaurants in Central Texas – mostly Austin – to be recycled into clean-burning biodiesel. We have five employees, including myself, and we have displaced millions of gallons of petroleum products since we began operations.

Over the years, we have worked with brick and mortar restaurants, commercial kitchens and institutions, as well as the emerging Austin food trailer community. In the summer of 2011, we received our first call from a trailer customer who said that the city had come out and told them they had to remove their grease bin, or face being shut down. Within a week, we had similar calls from other trailers, and continue to get calls regularly.

I spoke with the city code compliance team, and ultimately had more than a few phone calls and emails with their staff. They claimed that all “liquid waste” must be serviced at the trailer, or driven back to their commissary (the commercial kitchen that every trailer must be associated with). I did my research and confirmed what I had learned from being in this business – used cooking oil, called yellow grease by the industry, is NOT liquid waste. EPA defines liquid waste to include raw sewage, and trap grease – the wastewater coming out of sinks and hand washing stations.

I explained this to the city, and provided documentation. They did not disagree with me, but next claimed that trailers must return to their commissary to “be serviced” with no definition of what servicing is. Because they are mobile, the city claimed, they can not have a permanent container for their oil. I came back with a contract with the landlord for the property, so that the container belonged to the property owner, and the trailer could put the oil in there, by way of contract with their landlord.

The city said that the trailers are not allowed to put anything in external containers, no matter if the landlord provides them or not. I explained that ALL trailers use dumpsters for solid waste, either provided by a landlord or otherwise. Code Compliance told me that even the dumpsters are not allowed to be used. When I pressed them, they said that “nobody has complained about that” but agreed with my assessment that if one person took a picture of a trailer employee throwing a trash bag in a dumpster, the city would then have to start enforcing that rule as well. Even stranger, if a trailer’s customer ate at the trailer, they would be allowed to throw their plates and trash in the dumpster – but if a trailer employee picked up the customer’s trash and threw it away, it would be a violation.

I’m here today asking for common sense, and uniform enforcement of the mobile vending rules. I ask that the city allow trailers or property owners to contract with a licensed used oil hauler such as myself, to recycle the used oil in a responsible and safe manner. Without this, oil finds its way into the sewers and the landfill – something nobody wants. Thank you.