Columbia makes new rules to clean up restaurant grease

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COLUMBIA — If you've spent time walking the streets of downtown Columbia, the city said you may have noticed an unpleasant smell. And if you've ever ventured into any of the many alleys you may have seen grease seeping from bins that line the alleyways. 
The City of Columbia passed an ordinance that they hope will clean it up. The ordinance will ban the grease bins, making it illegal for downtown restaurants to store fats, oils and grease outside.
Currently, restaurants have individual discretion on how to store and dispose of their grease. Some use pricey internal grease storage systems installed inside their restaurants, some give their grease to companies who turn it into bio-diesel fuel. Others opt to simply pour tubs of grease directly into the city's dumpsters.
But the city said more commonly, restaurants have formed partnerships with private grease collection companies. The companies provide grease bins to groups of restaurants and store them in alley ways and streets near the restaurants. The restaurants then pour their liquid grease into the bins. When the bins are full, the company is supposed to empty them.
But the city said because most of the companies are located outside of Boone County, they do not empty the bins often enough. The city said grease and oil often seep out of the overflowing bins and onto alleys, streets and sewers. They said this creates a safety hazard for pedestrians, an environmental threat and an overall unpleasant atmosphere in the area.
Cramon Mays said he has witnessed the problem while living and working downtown.
"The grease traps are rough," Mays said. "Sometimes people miss it completely and they just kind of dump it and it just goes down the alleyway. Its just black all over and as soon as you go next to one you smell this burnt grease smell and it just looks rough all the time."
The city has been working with the Downtown Columbia Improvement District to craft the plan. 
Deborah Rust is a CID Board Member who has been working with the city to address grease disposal. She is also the co-owner of a restaurant downtown. She said the ordinance is a great step but restaurants have to cooperate.
"Of course you support anything that improves the downtown appearance," Rust said. "The thing that I worry about is if people don't remove their grease correctly, we'll have a bigger problem on our hands as far as storm water drainage. As long as the checks and balances are done correctly, I think it can be a good thing."
The CID has a grant program offering $27,000 to supplement the cost of internal storage bins for restaurants. The CID said that program ended in September with only one restaurant participating. They hope with the ordinance going into effect July 1, the CID hopes more restaurants will apply for the grant.
The last day for restaurants to apply for the grant is April 30.

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