Norman Dunagan readily admits it: “I have an insatiable appetite for used vegetable oil.”
The founder and operator of Dumpster Depot in Aiken, Dunagan is encouraging restaurants to dispose of their oil so that it can be converted to diesel fuel at a much lower cost.
His company is promoting the value and need to recycle waste and keep it out of ever-shrinking landfills. In the past two years, Dunagan said, the firm's numbers have grown from 2 million to 14 million pounds of waste saved from landfills.
“What we're doing is different in this economy,” he said. “We want to update you with the things we're doing. We're not just picking up trash.”
Dumpster Depot works with industrial companies like Bridgestone and Tognum America. Dunagan cited another firm that was spending $360,000 every year to dispose of waste. He said he educated that company that waste can be a resource and has since moved to the waste stream to $160,000 on the revenue side.
“This is huge when we're tying to think about an economy that is difficult to compete in,” Dunagan said. “We're able to get people profitable when they're having a hard time being profitable.”
However, South Carolina is way behind neighboring states like Georgia and North Carolina in these kinds of efforts, he said. They're moving forward, he said, with recycling plastics, aluminum and paper board. Such efforts statewide are Dumpster Depot's goal, Dunagan said.
In 1988, the United States had about 6,300 landfills; now there are 1,390, he said. As a result, waste has to travel farther and farther and companies must pay more for it.
Dunagan readily acknowledges he is an entrepreneur, not an environmentalist. Yet, the bottom line can be advantageous to communities in many ways, including an incentive to attract new industries.
He encouraged the Rotary members to educate restaurant owners about how they have access to a better solution in disposing their vegetable oil. Instead of oak, renewable material like bamboo can mature in 18 to 24 months. Compared to the average $4.50 per gallon for diesel fuel, Dunagan said, the cost will be $1.70 a gallon to turn the used oil into diesel fuel.
He also is planning to educate young people next year in all the area schools. Dunagan has created a “Green Machine” – a bus that runs on solar and electric power with an engine running on used vegetable oil collected from restaurants.
“We're funding the education that we'll use to spread to leaders in Aiken and also the youth,” he said.
Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.