Malaysian firm seeks to buy Hong Kong cooking oil

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 July, 2006, 12:00am

Once an unwanted waste product illegally poured down drains or exported to the mainland for further 'processing', used cooking oil has become a sought-after item for fuel producers outside Hong Kong.

A Malaysian bio-diesel company recently wrote to environmental lobby group Clear The Air, seeking information about channels for importing the oil from Hong Kong, after Malaysia's government imposed a temporary restriction on the use of palm oil, which is in short supply. The group has also received an e-mail from an entrepreneur asking if used cooking oil was being collected commercially in the city.

This emerging trend is in stark contrast to practices in Hong Kong.

A source close to a bio-diesel production proponent believed some oil collected by recyclers was exported to the mainland to be resold as cooking oil. His claim was based on a visit to a mainland factory reprocessing the oil last year.

'The reprocessing is not just illegal but is being done in a very unhygienic situation. How can we allow that to continue?'

Figures from the Census and Statistics Department showed that at least 2,400 tonnes of animal and vegetable fats was exported to the mainland in 2005, but there was no breakdown on used cooking oil.

The Environmental Protection Department (EDP) estimates that the restaurant trade produces about 740 tonnes of used oil a month.

'About half of the used oil is collected by recyclers, the remainder is mixed with kitchen refuse and subsequently disposed of at landfills,' a spokesman said.

Simon Wong Ka-wo, who operates restaurant chains in Hong Kong, said he understood the oil was moved across the border for recycling into cleaning products, though he admitted he had never seen the end products.

'The industry is very concerned about this and once talked to the EDP on where the used frying oil was sent to. We know that it is taken to the mainland,' he said.

'But we have never traced the oil and its reprocessing on the mainland. All we know is that there are people buying this as it is valuable.'