My Grandma Loves Biodiesel

My Grandma Loves Biodiesel

By Juliana Ciano

Grandma Helen is 92.  She is four and a half feet tall and shrinking.

I was raised in rural, southern Minnesota, and grandma Helen is a Prairie Home Companion postcard.  I’d like to say that she was this amazing environmentalist homesteading pioneer woman, but she wasn’t.  

When her brothers went into the service for WWII and one of the girls needed to come home and help on the family farm, her dad told her stay in secretary school.  Whatever that is.  

Grandma Helen can put commercially canned fruit, Cool Whip and Jello together and call it salad.  While the weather is 80 percent of her conversation topic, she doesn’t know much about climate change.  In fact, she never taught me anything explicitly about the environment.  

What she taught me, however, has proven to be of great value for environmental causes amongst others.  I was a pretty fragile kid: quick to cry and embarrassed about it.  I recall once, after crafting a beautiful, gooey batch of chocolate chip cookie dough, watching the glass mixing bowl slip off the counter and shatter:  no dough safe from shards.  WAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!   Instant tears.  The disappointment!  The mess!  The perfect bowl now broken!  

Grandma Helen had too much Norwegian sensibility to deal with this, and she would instantly provide a distraction and the encouragement to move on.    “No use crying about it,” she’d say.  

While this was totally aggravating in the moment, and I’m not promoting it as The Best Emotional/Psychological Technique, there is a grounding pragmatism to just cleaning up the mess and starting a game of Scrabble.  I’ve fallen into pits of despair crying about “it,” and now I can understand why pits of despair can be worth avoiding.  

It’s easy to watch a documentary or read the paper and hear “We’re all going to die!  The oceans are filled with plastic!  Our food is filled with agent orange and our breast milk is mostly mercury!”

But….there’s really no use crying about it.  The practical resilience Grandma Helen taught us has been key in a world with no shortage of tragedy.  The more despair and powerlessness we wallow in, the less effective we can be.  Make choices, take action.  Assess what you can do, and then do it.

Reunity Resources is a Grandma-Helen inspired, practical response to climate change:  there is no sense crying about your problems, just get to work making some solutions.  It’s not so much that Grandma Helen loves biodiesel as Grandma Helen says, “Quit just talking about it and do something.”

Reunity Resources.  Re-unite.  Unite, to bring together.  Re, again.  Reunity Resources, the Santa Fe-based social enterprise my husband and I founded in 2011 focuses on zero waste solutions here in northern New Mexico.  There is a mass mindset that we can throw things “away,” but….where is that?  Where does it go? Because it must go somewhere.  Reunity Resources looks at ways to put our “waste” into a place that adds value to our lives.  One of our programs is a restaurant grease collection program:  we collect used oil from over 120 area restaurants, use a low energy process to convert it into biodiesel, and then redistribute this clean fuel to BioFuel Collective members.

The impact of the BioFuel Collective reaches our whole community population: everyone in our community benefits from improved air quality, a water supply that does not get oil contamination, and a secure localized biodiesel fuel source. The BioFuel Collective reduces our community’s waste stream by 700 tons of CO2 annually, reduces our dependence on foreign oil and creates local jobs.  We also educate about and advocate for closed-loop recycling systems and the use of alternative fuels.

Our compost program, launched in April 2014, is now a smooth, tested operation, and we are diverting food waste from the landfill at a rate of approximately one million pounds per year.  We have trained over 6000 students, faculty and staff in 13 public elementary schools in daily cafeteria composting practices.  

Our work this year was recognized with 2015 Sustainable Santa Fe Award, a Climate Change Leadership Insitute Direct Action Award, and a New Mexico Recycling Coalition Public-Private Partnership of the Year Award for our work with City government.  Reunity Founder and Executive Directore Tejinder Ciano serves on the Sustainable Santa Fe Commission, the Mayor’s Climate Action Task Force and the SWAMA and SWAC committees, advocating for large-scale policy and practice changes, and then bridging the gap to implement them for a long-term sustainable Santa Fe.  After all, we are raising our family here.  

Grandma Helen wants you too, to take action and become part of the solution.  If you work with a restaurant, hotel or institution, and you’d like Reunity Resources to consult with you, recycle your grease, compost your food scraps or create a zero waste event for you,  please call (505) 393-1196, email [email protected] or visit  

We provide education, training and collection service to all our partners.  


I am only one, but I am still one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

Helen Keller

Compost Partner Verde Juice Blog

Last week, my 3 year caught a bug.  Not a beetle, not a grasshopper–it’s January.  He got sick.  After a day of rest, he was bouncing back.  When I asked him what food and drink his body was ready for, he said: “can we go to that special juice place I love?”  


It’s hard to resist a suggestion to go to Verde, much less one from a wide-eyed kid with an awkward haircut.  So, off we went.  

Upon entering, I acknowledged the square sticker to the right of the door:  “We Compost.”  

I made that sticker, and seeing it here reminded me of yet another reason I love Verde.

At Verde, I get a nutritious drink and support a local business that supports other local businesses and cares for our planet.  Verde is a whole cycle of values in action…much like composting!

• • •

If you’re reading this, you probably already have a general idea of why composting is important.  But, do you know how truly transformative it can be?  

  • Yes, composting reduces the amount of trash we create
  • Yes, composting makes farms more productive and drought-resistant
  • Yes, composting prevents gigatons of planet-warming methane from entering the atmosphere  
  • Yes, (here’s the kicker!) research shows that applying a thin layer of compost, a single time, sets up an ongoing positive feedback loop that continues to bring more carbon into the soil.  

Did you get all that?  Composting on a large scale prevents the release of greenhouse gases and sequesters gigatons of excess carbon from the atmosphere back to a place where it can be useful, our soil!   

Please contact me ([email protected] (505)629-0836) if your business would like to join our commercial composting program, or if you’d like to purchase our finished compost for your gardening, agricultural and landscaping applications.  

We also hope you’ll join us June 4, 2016 at the Railyard Park for our first Reuse-apalooza, a carnival and event for all ages celebrating resourcefulness and resiliency.  Come play!

New Mexican Biodiesel Profile

Check out the profile of Santa Fe non-profit organization Reunity Resources through the link below. Turning grease into second-generation biodiesel (i.e. made from recycled rather than virgin oil) is Reunity’s primary program, though we have our sights set on a commercial compost expansion in the coming year.

Earth Week:

Collective uses cooking oil for biofuels


About once a month, Tahnee Growing Thunder fills the tank of her Volkswagen Golf with biodiesel made from recycled cooking oil donated by local Santa Fe eateries. She’s part of a biofuels collective launched by the nonprofit group ReUnity. 

Read more…

Santa Fe Green Living Guide

Check out “Grease Balm,”  Editor Alexa’s interview with us about grease, biodiesel and staying local in Santa Fe.

SFR: Describe your operation.
Ciano: Right now, we have about 35 local restaurants. They donate their grease to us; we collect it; we bring it to the only certified manufacturer in New Mexico. They convert it into biodiesel—which is a quick, low-energy, low-water process—and then we bring that back to Santa Fe and distribute.

SFR: Describe your operation.
Ciano: Right now, we have about 35 local restaurants. They donate their grease to us; we collect it; we bring it to the only certified manufacturer in New Mexico. They convert it into biodiesel—which is a quick, low-energy, low-water process—and then we bring that back to Santa Fe and distribute.

How many consumers are you working with?
Right now, it’s about a dozen. That’s where we’re hoping to really expand by having an access point. We get a lot of calls from people who don’t want the trouble of having a 55-gallon drum in their garage.

How did you get involved in this?
Nobody dreams about collecting used grease—like, it’s kind of a nasty business. My partner was working with the Santa Fe Alliance, doing the Farm to Restaurant program, and he was making all these connections with local restaurants and noticing what needs were out there. And simultaneously, he was taking courses in the sustainability department at [Santa Fe] Community College—and so it just sort of hatched. Pretty soon, there were more people that wanted to donate their oil for biodiesel than he could handle. …We were literally borrowing a truck, borrowing a pump—and then, bit by bit, buying each of those pieces of infrastructure and becoming more passionate about the environmental and health benefits of using biodiesel. It’s really one of those things that seems to be overlooked. It’s this fabulous, local, renewable, clean fuel that’s here now; why isn’t it out there?

Do you think there’s more demand here?
We do. It is possible to get 5-20 percent biodiesel at the Baca Street pump, but it’s not local, and it’s sourced from virgin soybean oil. What we’re offering is actually from our waste stream, up-cycled, and we can offer it at 99.99 percent [biodiesel]. It’s the real deal.

Are you worried about running out of supply?
No. Right now, we figure we’re getting about 25 percent of the city’s grease for biodiesel, and so it’s a matter of continuing to up that.

What types of grease can you use?
Basically anything that’s coming out of our restaurants. The traditional deep fryer—French fries, tempura, sopaipillas—whatever its original source is doesn’t matter, just as long as it is liquid at room temperature.

What happens if places don’t recycle grease?
Often it gets shipped overseas, manufactured into some kind of animal feed, and then shipped back. [Sometimes,] in small-scale operations, it’ll get poured down the drain—which is illegal, but it happens.

The difference is that yours is local.
Exactly: it’s a full-circle, closed-loop system. Everything stays in New Mexico.

Reunity Resources wants your grease! To donate, call 629-0836 or email [email protected].

Santa Fe Reporter Green Living Guide, March 2013


KSFR with Bob Ross – Biodiesel

Listen in to our conversation at the local Santa Fe Farmer’s Market with Bob Ross.  We’re talking about the importance of our local restaurant partners, why biodiesel makes such a big difference and why Santa Fe is the place for zero waste to become a reality.

KSFR with Bob Ross LIVE from the Farmer’s Market, April 6

Velocity Project: Social Entrepreneurs

Velocity Project helps boost startups


Small-business owners who recently completed the city’s first entrepreneurial “boot camp” say they are ready to expand. It’s community support, however, that will help them all take the next step.

Saturday was a demonstration day for The Velocity Project, an eight-week program for business startups in Santa Fe. The city-funded project to boost local businesses was open to entrepreneurs with an established product or service, but who need help growing.

Tejinder and Juliana Ciano and Trevor Ortiz want to branch out their company, ReUnity Resources, which now picks up 1,500 gallons of used cooking oil each month from more than 30 local restaurants and resells it in Santa Fe as biodiesel fuel.

Part of their business plan is to get more area restaurants to agree to contribute used oil, and to find more clients who need the fuel. So, like the other six project participants, they had a request for the 70 people in the audience: They asked attendees to drop off a postcard about the business ( at the next place they dine.

“Let your next sopaipilla be a small step in saving the world,” Tejinder said during their presentation.


Read more in the SF New Mexican, The Velocity Project Demo Day March 2013

101.5 – Biodiesel in Santa Fe

Looking at localism and economic development, Juliana, Kate and Gretyl discuss the benefits of biodiesel, the local Santa Fe restaurants donating their used oil as biodiesel feedstock, the potential for City of Santa Fe fleet use of biodiesel in a 20% blend, and why Santa Fe is a great place to be an entrepreneur.

The Voice 101.5 Back in (the) Black with Kate Noble and Gretyl Follingstad April 2013