Lessons from a neighbourhood that collects its used cooking oil for recycling.
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In SS14, Subang Jaya, a growing number of its residents have been disposing their used cooking oil in a collection drum at a nearby park.
Every two months, about 120 liters of oil is collected and sold for recycling. That’s 120 liters prevented from polluting water and clogging up drains.
“I don’t think many people realise that there is a proper way to dispose cooking oil,” says Tan Eng Tor, the SS14 neighbourhood watch (Rukun Tetangga SS14) vice chairman.
He explains that centralising the collection has allowed residents to see for themselves what their collective output actually looks like, and that in turn is encouraging more people to participate.
The collection at SS14 has been going on for close to two years now as part of their larger recycling efforts, and the growth in the community’s participation has been encouraging enough that the team plans to reinvest the revenue into social outreach programmes.
The SS14 neighbourhood watch shares some of their struggles below, along with advice on what your neighbourhood needs to get started.
But first, let’s get to know waste oil.
Waste oil pollutes
More often than not, household waste oil goes down the drain (a preliminary survey in Penang in 2013 estimated 60% of households in the state does this).
The amount of cooking oil you throw out might seem insignificant to you.
Collectively however, it could be costing your local council a lot to clean up otherwise avoidable clogs.
In 2016, the Klang Municipal Council (MPK) president shared that the council had spent close to RM6 million that year alone on cleaning water pipes and drains clogged by used oil being poured down the kitchen sink.
When oil is poured down the sink, it solidifies when mixed with cold water and clogs pipes.
Yet even if the oil manages to flow through, resources still needs to be spent on cleaning it out of the water.
Oil spreads thin, so just one litre of oil can affect one million litres of water.
A report in 2016 revealed that food waste was a main pollutant in eight rivers in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, with oil and grease dumped into drains to be blamed.
But if the environmental stakes aren’t enough to convince you, then consider this:
Demand for waste oil is increasing
Biodiesel demand is increasing at this time, specifically from Europe as the European Union this year revised its Renewable Energy Directive (REDII) which aims to increase renewables (such as waste oil) in energy production by 2030.
What this means is that demand for used oil collection also increased to produce the renewable aspect of the EU’s biodiesel, pushing the industry here to heighten efforts to source for your scraps.
One such supplier of biodiesel feedstock to Europe is FatHopes Energy.
Founded 11 years ago, growth has been especially notable in the past three years for FatHopes, even gaining widespread recognition for working with McDonald’s to convert their processed oil into biodiesel for their fleet.
But its founder and chief executive Vinesh Sinha says FatHopes believes in continuous focus on households because they are still in the phase of changing mindsets.
“Our scalability depends on the behavioural change,” says Vinesh.
“That’s why we continue to service residential areas. Because it creates a potential leapfrog effect.”
This year also saw the official formation of the Association of Used Cooking Oil Development Malaysia.
Made up of longstanding waste oil processing companies in the country, it aims to better coordinate industry players towards regulation and industry accountability.
The association’s secretary general Aaron Neo shares that with the growing demand for biodiesel feedstock, the entire supply chain from the collection all the way to filtration will need to be under heavier scrutiny. He explains that growing demand could capture the attention of potential scammers who could increase their volume with contaminants and sell their collected oil for more than it’s worth.
However in the short term, the association aims to focus on consolidating logistics and resources among member companies and spreading awareness of responsible oil disposal to the general public.
“The association is new, but the members have been in the industry a long time,” says Aaron.
“So we need to work together to develop standards, collect data for sharing and keep each other on the right path.”
Aaron also serves as company director to one of the country’s major collectors of used cooking oil, CS Oil & Fats which he runs with fellow company director Low Chua Seng who has been in the business for 35 years.
He adds that with logistics spanning throughout peninsular Malaysia and still growing, they are expanding their collections to include smaller batches from residences.
“We provide the barrels and the collection services. Just contact us and we will try to adapt to you and give a reasonable pricing for the oil depending on the frequency of collection and consistency of weight,” he says.
A grassroots-level alternative
Another use for waste cooking oil is in the making of soap, cleaning products and candles.
Chia Wen Shin is the founder of startup Green Yards, which does just that.
“There’s already a lot of emphasis on an industrial level by bigger collectors, so for us, we want to directly bridge the gap for households,” says Chia Wen Shin.
“Hopefully recycling used cooking oil will one day be as commonly understood as recycling paper.”
Green Yards conducts workshops that teach others to upcycle their used oil into soaps and candles themselves.
Their smaller scale approach allows exchanges of as small as 5kg of oil which gets you a bar of upcycled soap in return.
For this approach, if you’re not familiar with how soaps are made, you might be thinking that all you’ve done is just recycle the oil into soap that gets washed down the drain — which we were avoiding from doing in the first place.
But it’s not so. Soap and detergent made from oil go through a saponification process which turns it biodegradable.
Green Yards currently only serves two collection points in the Klang Valley, with only one of which being open to public drop-off, which is the EcoKnights office in Taman Tun Dr Ismail.
Collect in your own neighbourhood
For the middle-class SS14 community, Tan says that they were fortunate to have a resident, Syazwan Majid, who runs a recycling business who could facilitate their ambitions.
Syazwan, who runs Kitareward, helped plan the construction of a recycling cage and coordinated with the appropriate recyclable waste collectors. And in the case of used cooking oil for the neighbourhood, he contacted FatHopes.
Syazwan shares that it is actually not difficult to get started with collecting used cooking oil.
“If you can negotiate with an oil collector on how much oil will be a profitable amount for them to come and pick up, then you just need to keep track of your oil collection,” he says.
“For us, it was between 100 to 200 litres, so we got a 120 litre drum.”
In terms of cleanliness, it is important to ensure that the drum has a way of being sealed to protect it from things dropping inside. To be safe, request for a drum from the waste oil collector of your choosing.
However, do note that many local councils have initiatives for used cooking oil collection and it is worth calling the appropriate department to find out if there are special programmes for resident initiatives.
Either way, it will require a group of people to take the lead in coordinating efforts. For example, resident Soo Ming Soon is tasked with overseeing collections and overall cleanliness of the space, while Tan coordinates the residents and Syazwan facilitates collection.
“We do it because it’s the responsible thing to do. And we know that if others are aware of this collection point, they would choose to participate as well. So it’s important for the group to keep it going,” Syazwan says.
“I am confident that this initiative would be well received in most neighbourhoods because despite being a small outfit here, we have people coming in from Shah Alam and Kuala Lumpur to come and drop off their oil.”
If you are interested to get in touch with any of the organisations mentioned in this story, get connected here:
SS14 Rukun Tetangga (SS14 neighbourhood watch)