Recycled cooking oil flooding local market

  • The used cooking oil is poured into a filtration container for filtration, "cleaning," deodorisation and bleaching. On the left is Frederick Deo. Photo courtesy: Sin Chew Daily

  • Each "supplier" will be distributed free blue barrels for keeping discarded cooking oil. Photo courtesy: Sin Chew Daily

  • The cooking oil barrels are put alongside kerosene tanks at the back of an eatery. Photo courtesy: Sin Chew Daily

Translated by DOMINIC LOH
Sin Chew Daily

While enjoying the good food lying before us, few would realise that it could have been prepared with recycled cooking oil, which could have been used before by roadside hawkers to fry the fritters and later sold to irresponsible businessmen for processing before ending up in the market again.

With the tips provided by readers, Sin Chew Daily recently went around to explore whether such cooking oil was actually sold in the market, and how chain restaurants disposed of their cooking oil and made some truly shocking discoveries.

Tunku Syed Razman Environmental Foundation has been conducting investigations on recycled cooking oil over the past two years, and could confirm that there are indeed people acquiring used cooking oil for processing and then selling back to the market for a profit.

Established on February 9, 2010, the foundation has been promoting the use of recycled cooking oil for biodiesel, and received the US National Biodiesel Board (NBB) accreditation on March 8 the following year to become the only in Asia achieving this accreditation.

The foundation has also been actively fighting against illegal sale of recycled cooking oil.

The foundation's executive director Frederick Deo Chang Foo told Sin Chew Daily that recycled cooking oil has become instable after being continuously used. While it may look similar to new cooking oil when first bought, it could turn turbid if left under room temperatures for weeks. However, as majority of users of 1kg packs of cooking oil are hawkers, the cooking oil is used up very fast and the problem is therefore often left undiscovered.

Deo advised the public to purchase cooking oil directly packed by the manufacturers, or established brands, as recycled cooking oil not only comes in 1kg packs, but could also be found in bottled products.

Sin Chew Daily reporter went to a sundry shop on Feb 13 to buy a 1kg pack of cooking oil, and discovered that it turned turbid after being left under room temperatures for 22 days, almost 20 months short of its supposed expiry date.

Deo reviewed that several companies in Negeri Sembilan accept "oil swap" from hawkers, whereby hawkers bring the used cooking oil to the companies to "exchange" for processed recycled cooking oil for a little extra charge.

He pointed out that these hawkers are well aware of how the cooking oil has been derived, as they are both the raw material suppliers as well as the purchasers.

From what he has found out, another company in the state processes the used cooking oil and then packaged into unbranded 1kg packs for re-sale to the more remote places in the state. Bearing no halal tags with only some basic information, these products could be purchased in many rural sundry shops but not supermarkets.

When approached by Sin Chew Daily, a petty business owner in Petaling Jaya admitted that she had been using "processed cooking oil" to fry her food, and that the seller of such cooking oil would come regularly to sell the barrelled cooking oil to her and other roadside hawkers.

However, she did not think the "processed cooking oil" had been recycled from used cooking oil, but extracted and processed by some small palm oil refineries.

It is understood that the 17kg packs "processed cooking oil" are sold for RM84, or about RM5 per kg, almost double as expensive as the cheapest product in the market.

She feels that processed cooking oil is relatively cleaner and will not turn turbid even if used repeatedly and therefore needs not be changed daily.

According to Frederick Deo, there are about seven or eight companies going around collecting used cooking oil from hawkers, each with its own "oil collecting fleet," some even outsourced the operations to pick-up drivers. On average, each company has around 20 to 30 pick-ups.

"They tell the hawkers the used cooking oil will be made into soap, biodiesel and animal feed."

He said the "used oil collection" business is highly competitive, and new F&B operators will be visited by oil collecting companies very soon for used cooking oil.

He said if these companies acquire the used cooking oil for more than a ringgit per kg, they would suffer losses if the collected oil is processed into biodiesel, as the selling prices of biodiesel have been capped by the government at RM1.80 per kg.

"Unless the used cooking oil is acquired for under 40 sen per kg and at least 5,000 to 10,000 tonnes of biodiesel is produced each year, they will not be able to get a profit at all. As such, profits can only be assured if the used cooking oil is sold overseas or is processed for re-sale in the market."

On average, each company can collect 300 to 500 tonnes of used cooking oil each month, and based on the selling prices of RM2,000 to RM2,500 per tonne, they can easily make RM1 million profits every month.

Therefore, if used cooking oil is acquired at high prices, it only makes some business sense if they use it to make processed cooking oil.

Disguising as hawker, Sin Chew Daily's reporter called up a cooking oil collector and found that the business is indeed highly competitive.

The oil collector assured that the acquired used cooking oil is for legal uses, such as making soap, candles, etc., and stressed that approval documents issued by the government and information on product manufacturers could be produced upon request.

He used the operators would normally go on their rounds in a few specific areas to save time, adding that the operators have actually delineated their areas of operation to avoid overlapping.

The barrels provided to the hawkers are the standard black cover blue barrels.

The operator went on to say that the market price for used cooking oil is RM1.40 per kg, or about RM70 for a full 50kg barrel.

As some of the operators in the market acquire used cooking oil for even higher prices in a bid to secure the source of raw materials, he emphasised that if the hawkers want to sell to him, they must not sell the oil to other operators.

He said normally he would first get the customers to provide their business addresses and then he will visit them and provide them with the barrels.

According to a used oil collector in Penang, the selling prices of used cooking oil could be increased to RM1.60 to RM1.80 per kg if the supply of cooking oil is in excess.

Read also:

Part 2: Black box operation
Part 3: Reproducing used cooking oil into biodiesel