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Waste Not . . .

August 20, 1989

Things we never knew: Junk food outlets generate 9 million pounds of leftover grease every day . So reports Consumers Union News Digest, quoting a publication called Dollars & Sense, which in turn cites data from the National Renderers Assn. What happens to all that used cooking oil and run-off animal fats from all those chicken, hamburger, taco, won ton and fried-fish joints? It seems that it's collected and sold to producers of animal feeds for recycling back into the food chain. We'd never really thought about it before, but we suppose that's as good a way of getting rid of the stuff as any.

Alas, the renderers organization, which represents 350 companies involved in collecting and recycling the grease, sees a slippery slope ahead. It's worried about a new fat substitute that Procter & Gamble wants to bring to market, a product called olestra, which is said to be very low in calories and fat. The renderers are trying to get the Food and Drug Administration to deny approval to olestra. They say that olestra's low fat reduces its nutritional value as a recycled component of animal feed. That, say the renderers, could lower its price to the point where it might not be worth collecting. The result--again, this is the renderers' rendition--could be the creation of a "mountainous solid waste" problem.

That's another thing we never really thought about before, but thinking about it now is enough to make the flesh creep and the stomach churn. Suddenly we are confronted with a vision of millions of pounds of old, unwanted and uncollected cooking oil, leaking out from under the doors of tens of thousands of fast-food joints, sliding down the streets, bubbling up doorsteps, oozing up to our chins as we cower in bed.

Does the National Renderers Assn. perhaps exaggerate the threat it sees to its members' profitability? The idea does occur. Still, the spectacle the renderers evoke is hard to get out of mind. "Some say the world will end in fire," wrote Robert Frost, "some say in ice." Well, yes. But now there's the grease that ate Los Angeles to start worrying about. More fruits and vegetables, anyone?

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