From fryer to fuel


A new program at East Carolina University enables used cooking oil to be recycling into biodiesel fuel. Pictured above at the Croatan on campus, Sloan Burnette lifts a basket of hot french fries from a vat of cooking oil. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

ECU Campus Dining joins effort to recycle used cooking oil

By Kathryn Kennedy
ECU News Services

The cooking oil used to fry chicken, French fries and other foods East Carolina University students love is now being recycled to fuel school activity buses across Pitt County.

Campus restaurants began donating their oil to the new Biodiesel 4 Schools program in August, according to Joyce Sealey, director of dining services at ECU. Organized as a school fundraiser by recycling business Green Circle North Carolina, the discarded oil is collected and sold to a plant in Wilson that transforms the waste into biodiesel. It then comes back to Pitt County Schools to fuel activity buses – which can use the biodiesel without engine modification.

ECU was already recycling used cooking oil through dining services’ vendor Aramark. However, Sealey said Biodiesel 4 Schools provides a better service at no charge and keeps the profits local.


Containers have been placed outside the Croatan for cooking oil recycling.

“To me, this is a better deal because it’s going back to the school systems,” she said. “It actually stays in Pitt County. We need to give back to the community.”

Sealey said the organization provided purple and gold 50-gallon collection barrels to place at each of the six dining services locations where cooking oil is used daily. A Green Circle truck arrives a couple times each week to pump out the oil, and cleans up any mess created in the dumping or transfer.

ECU isn’t the only local vendor finding a new use for its fryer waste. Green Circle co-owner Dean Price said more than 150 Pitt County restaurants are also donating their used cooking oil to Biodiesel 4 Schools.

“This is garbage to the restaurant owners as well as the university,” Price said. “And in the past, it’s been hard to get rid of. The whole process is just simple, organic chemistry.”

Price envisions an industry developing around biofuels in Pitt County that could be replicated as Green Circle spreads the model across the state. Pitt was the first county to adopt the Biodiesel 4 Schools program, he said.

ECU has donated more than 620 gallons of cooking oil for recycling since the partnership began.

More information on the Biodiesel 4 Schools is available online at


At the Croatan on campus, Terrence Suggs fries chicken nuggets in oil bound for recycling into biodiesel fuel.