BY NATALIE HENG firstname.lastname@example.org
Taman Gasing Indah rukun tetangga deputy chairman Eric Chew (left) and committee member Chan Siew Hong shows how easy it is to drop off used cooking oil at the collection station in their neighbourhood.
Oil collection drives in apartments and housing estates stop the clog in our community arteries.
THE build-up happens over time, like in our arteries. It takes years to get clogged up, but when it does…”
Petaling Jaya city councillor Chan Chee Kong lets the sentence trail off. It does not take a genius to see where he is going with this.
For years, our drains and sewerage have been fouled by used cooking oil.
Smelly drains are not something people voluntarily put up with, and picnics at the park just aren’t the same when the lake you’re sitting next to is polluted with icky traces of fat and grease.
Yet, that is exactly what the majority of homemakers and cooks work towards, when they pour stale oil down the sink every day. They do this oblivious to the fact that the grease collects in pipes and eventually, block sewage lines.
In houses where the kitchen sink leads directly out to the drain, the grease ends up in rivers, ponds and lakes. Suspended in the water, these hydrophobic particles attract heavy metals, which are then ingested by fish which may die or be eaten by people.
Chan’s artery analogy seems apt. Every wok of oil you make “disappear” is just waiting to bite you back, slowly clogging up essential infrastructure and marring our environment. But how else are we to get rid of the oil? Chucking it into a dumpsite just leads to a similarly depressing scenario.
Some have locked on to the problem and have started coming up with solutions. In England, councils have created Road Refuse and Recycling Centres where residents can get rid of their used cooking oil. Down under, the Australian government has set up an online directory listing waste oil drop-off stations, collectors and recyclers.
In Petaling Jaya, Selangor, the city council has initiated a campaign to encourage the recycling of used cooking oil into biodiesel. It has been about four months since the council went on the assault; iMacs, cash prizes and flat screen televisions are used as carrots, plus awareness programmes on the consequences of uninhibited oil-throwing.
Students, residents and local government employees are collecting as much oil as they can to vie for the prizes. In the process, a good number of folks have grown aware of this otherwise ignored problem.
But in actuality, the ball was rolling a lot earlier. It started with a walk through the pasar malam, where Selangor Water Management Authority (LUAS) officer Mazlan Idrus noticed hawkers pouring their used cooking oil straight into the drains.
“It was happening right in front of my eyes!” he recalls. That was when he decided to put together a presentation on the hazards of pouring cooking oil into drains. That was in 2005. The first organisation to heed the presentation by LUAS was a mosque in Shah Alam, Surau Al-Husna. LUAS continued to spread its message to people at exhibitions, focusing on communities by the river.
In total, 100 communities in the Klang Valley have started some kind of cooking oil recycling programme. Initially, the oil was dumped in landfills, arguably, a marginally better option than dumping in rivers. But as there are now companies processing oil waste into biodiesel, the collected oil is channelled to that option.
The community participation rate varies, however, Maslan estimates an average participation level of 30% for each community, with some far below and some above that. “Some of the drums have been empty year after year. I think the success of the initiative depends on the strength of that community and it’s leader, how cohesive they (the community) are.”
After hearing a LUAS presentation in 2009, teacher Norlia Kamarudin, 42, persuaded her neighbours at Desa Mentari in Petaling Jaya to host a talk by the agency. That was how the oil recycling drive arrived at her apartment complex. Soon, other apartment blocks at Desa Mentari adopted the scheme.
LUAS put them in touch with cooking oil trader CGV Industries, which provided collection drums. When full, the drums were picked up and sold to companies like Sime Darby, Kris Biofuels and Fathopes Energy, which convert the oil into biodiesel.
The successful oil collection drive at Desa Mentari soon caught the attention of the rukun tetangga at Damai Senja Apartments, also in Petaling Jaya, which decided to replicate the scheme. Before long, the Petaling Jaya City Council got on board, partnering with CGV Industries to launch its campaign last year.
Of the 100 rukun tetangga groups and residents associations invited by the city council, 15 are participating in the initiative. Four months on from the launch, a handful of those seem to have excelled in sustaining their area’s oil collection activities.
A closely-knitted community seems to be a recurring feature amongst areas with successful waste oil recycling stories, and Taman Gasing Indah is one of them. Many of the male residents there take part in voluntary patrols around the area, and they also run a recycling scheme in conjunction with a local Buddhist association.
A key driver of the oil collection drive there is Eric Chew, deputy chairman of the neighbourhood watch.
“We printed two 3×10 feet banners and distributed about a thousand flyers to raise awareness about why we should reuse our cooking oil,” he says. Based on the amounts collected, Chew estimates that a quarter of the 417 households in Taman Gasing Indah are recycling their used cooking oil.
“There are two 50kg drums. It took over a month to gather enough oil for the first collection,” says Chew.
On a positive note, some of the local goreng pisang sellers and even residents from nearby condominiums, Cameron Towers and Maxwell Towers at Gasing Heights, have been spotted using the drums.
CGV Industries pays RM1.20 for every kilogramme of oil. Chew says they made about RM60 from their last drum.
“We channel the money into community projects, like dengue awareness and such. One of our plans is to use the funds to charter a school bus to bring kids from SMK Taman Petaling to two recycling centres.”
Not very far from Taman Gasing Indah, the rukun tetangga at Damai Senja Apartments is adopting creative ways to encourage more residents to recycle waste oil.
“We use the money gained by selling our used oil to award financial tokens to families which have collected the most quantities, so more residents have an incentive to take part,” says rukun tetangga chairman, Santhiveloo Kanniah.
However, they managed to make only one collection for a 100kg drum in the eight months of the scheme.
This might have something to do with the varying levels of motivation for participation.
“A lot of people don’t cook much, so it may seem pointless to them. Out of about 240 units, I estimate that 190 units are occupied and out of those, maybe 25 are by families and 40 by bachelors who don’t cook so much,” said Santhiveloo.
Councillor Chan thinks that ultimately, for long term sustainability of the programme, recycling of both cooking oil and other items should be made compulsory, something he is determined to push for.
The council is looking at installing a standard system of grease trap and oil collection for recycling for food courts under its management.
The Selangor state government is in the early stages of preparing a plan to deal with used cooking oil, focusing initially on installing grease traps in restaurants.
“It is a complicated issue, involving many different parties, but we are looking forward to kicking off some initiatives next year,” revealed a state spokesperson. “It is clear however, that the government will have to play a part in ensuring responsible disposal of used cooking oil, through awareness, proper enforcement, monitoring and also the creation of incentives for people to do the right thing.”