The primary purpose of used cooking oil collection in China is food safety

Used cooking oil (UCO) has been increasingly utilized in Europe to produce biodiesel. With the rising demand for this feedstock, EU imports of UCO from China and other Asian regions are growing.

While China is shouldering the majority of this growing export sector, the Chinese government had faced serious problems in ensuring food safety over the past 10 years. UCO, or illicit cooking oil (known as “Gutter Oil”) that has been recycled from waste oil collected from restaurant fryers, drains and grease traps, as well as slaughterhouse waste, were being made back into human consumption and causing serious health issues and concerns among the public. 

The number of criminal cases of hazardous food-safety practices sharply increased between 2010 and 2016. In addition, the number of people sentenced for food-safety crimes increased by 149 % over this period. The “Strict Punishment for Waste Oil Crimes” was published in 2016 to demand that the people’s court and local governments at all levels severely punish criminals. The bill states that anyone violating this law and harming human health or other serious circumstances should be sentenced to 5 to 10 years in jail. People who cause death, or especially serious circumstances, should be sentenced to 10 years or longer, for life or even receive the death penalty. It goes without saying that it is also forbidden by law to use UCO for animal feed production.

Enforcing food safety laws, the expansion of UCO collection (including tighter control over collection logistics) and renewable energy, as well as the export market, have all been part of government reforms in ensuring safety management of waste cooking oil. Rules have been implemented in establishing a system of supervision that are linked to law enforcement in local government branches. In 2018, the Shanghai Food Safety office added GPS tagging to waste oil barrels, together with licensed trucks, to ensure traceability. “The system enables officers to know exactly where the oil is at all times, but, it does come at a price,“ said Gu Zhenhua, Deputy Director of Shanghai Food Safety Office.

In other major Chinese cities like Beijing, Chengdu and Guangzhou, restaurants were ordered to install ‘Grease traps’ that separate oil and grease before the substances enter the city’s sewage system, thus making it impossible for illicit retrieval.

China plans to install grease traps across its major cities with 98% coverage rate in the next five years. As a further step, local governments will start releasing data on waste oil volumes so the public can be informed. According to China daily – ‘restaurants that don’t offer the waste oil to the appointed collector, and collectors who fail to transfer the oil to regulated recycling companies could face fines of 20,000 (S$4,000) to 50,000 yuan ($$10,000). The most serious offenders could face criminal charges and a fine of up to 100,000 yuan (S$250,000).’

The Author: Tian Lan, is working as feedstock coordinator in Peking for an US based biodiesel producer