Biodiesel has become a hot topic in recent years, especially in regards to the production of corn for ethanol. The truth is, this is only one small part of biodiesel production. Biodiesel produces less particulate matter in the air, which reduces air pollution and improves human health. The fact is that biodiesel emits 78% less carbon dioxide and 47% lessparticulate matter than petroleum. Unfortunately, biodiesel has been getting a bad reputation in the media due to the production of ethanol from corn. Ethanol contains one third less energy than gas, which means mileage is 30-40% lower. Massive ethanol production could cause a shortage of corn available for food and also destroy habitats fromoveruse of farmland to grow and grow and grow corn. It could also increase smog in urban areas. Unfortunately the US government currently subsidizes ethanol production at around 51 cents per gallon produced. This means taxpayer dollars are being spent on the production of unsustainable biofuels.
At this point you might be wondering why environmentalists are promoting biofuels as a fossil fuel alternative. Well, the truth is there are many animal and vegetable sources that are being used to make biodiesel. One popular method in New York City is to use cooking oil from fried foods that can be recycled and converted into biodiesel. This means that restaurant owners will have their waste cooking oil picked up by a company who will then take this oil and convert it into biodiesel. The alternative is waste oil being dumped into our waterways and streets. According to the NYC Department of Transportation, illegal cooking oil dumping is a main factor in the deterioration of City Streets. You might think, how much harm could one gallon of cooking oil do? Well, just one gallon of oil poured down a storm drain could contaminate up to one million gallons of water! Therefore, instead of dumping all of this cooking oil we could close the loop and use this so called “waste” to create energy.
In August 2012, the HII team led a workshop to inform local youth at AAFE (Asian Americans for Equality) about biodiesel and cooking oil recycling as part of our Go Green Western Queens! Summer Youth Leadership Program. After learning the ropes, the AAFE students went out on the streets of Queens to try to encourage local restaurant businesses in Queens to start recycling their cooking oil. To our surprise many restaurants are already recycling their cooking oil! The youth were very outgoing and did not hesitate to go up to business owners and talk to them about recycling their cooking oil. Some of the students were so inspired by their time in Woodside that they want to start doing outreach in their own community! This outreach is part of our Ecopreneurs project to help small businesses in the New York City area become more sustainable.
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By Dominique Murray, 2012 Human Impacts Institute Environmental Services Intern