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(photo by Brandon Wise)

DOWNTOWN — French fries might clog arteries, but the grease and oil in which they cook can at least power the ambulances for trips to the hospital.

While City Hall isn’t necessarily promoting heart diseases, it is encouraging local restaurants to deposit used fats, oils and greases at refuse collection sites throughout Downtown, turning waste into fuel for biodiesel vehicles.

The recently launched program partners City Hall’s Solid Waste Management Division with GeoGreen Biofuels, a new Los Angeles-based company that has placed 200-gallon containers at five parking structures in Downtown where restaurants are welcome to drop off used oils and greases at no cost. GeoGreen then picks up the filled containers and takes them to its new plant in Vernon where the oil is transformed into biodiesel, which participating restaurants can then purchase at wholesale cost.

“Our goal is to make something that is beneficial to restaurants,” Myesha Jones, the business assistant in the Solid Waste Management Division, said.

Bins are set up at parking structures on the 1200, 1300 and 1400 blocks of Second Street and the 1300 and 1400 blocks of Fourth Street. City officials said the program is meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, combat climate change and curb the growing number of clogged sewers.

City Hall previously offered smaller 50-gallon containers to businesses who wanted to recycle oils and greases. The waste however was not converted to biofuel, Wes Thompson, the recycling coordinator, said.

He estimates that businesses in Santa Monica go through about 450,000 gallons of oil every year.

Joel Rubin, the director of sales and marketing at GeoGreen Biofuels, said that a bin has also been placed on Main Street. He expects that most businesses in both business districts will participate.

The young company has been contracted by the Los Angeles Convention Center and various area junior colleges, including Pasadena City College, L.A. Harbor College and El Camino College. While the plant is not yet in operation, bins have been collected from all locations and stockpiled. Rubin said he expects the plant to be fully operational next month.

He said that the beauty of the process is that restaurants who contribute and City Hall will have the opportunity to buy the biofuel back at wholesale prices.

“It is a 360 degree solution, taking waste and making it clean,” he said.

Awareness of the new program among restaurant operators seems to be low in its first two weeks of operation. One restaurant that is interested in participating is Buddha’s Belly on Broadway.

Travis Moore, the manager of Buddha’s Belly, said the restaurant is working to receive its green business certification from Sustainable Works and is considering depositing its grease and oil with GeoGreen. The restaurant’s waste is currently hauled away by a private company.

Buddha’s Belly has already changed out its light bulbs to more environmentally friendly alternatives and has started using biodegradable silverware.

“We have already put several changes in place but we feel like this is something that is important,” Moore said.

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