Mon, Dec 29, 2014 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Taiwan regressing in biofuel, waste oil policy

By Elizabeth Hsu  /  Staff writer, with CNA

At a time when most industrialized countries have found bright solutions for dealing with waste cooking oil, Taiwan seems to be stuck in the dark ages, with unethical businesses showing that they are willing to illegally repurpose such oil for human consumption to earn more money at the expense of public health.

This year, one of the nation’s largest culinary oil manufacturers, Chang Guann Co (強冠企業), was caught selling lard oil products mixed with oil recycled from kitchen and industrial waste. Many have blamed the lack of oversight in the industry on the government’s lax enforcement of regulations.

To put its waste oil to use, the EU has imposed measures stipulating that by 2020, 5 percent of all fuel being consumed by member countries must be biofuels made from recycled waste.

In stark contrast, Taiwan seemed to take a step backward in this regard when it recalled its 2004 biodiesel policy in May.

The policy had required all diesel fuel sold at gas stations to include 2 percent biodiesel to help reduce carbon emissions, but the regulation was axed when the mixed fuel caused pipe blockages and engine trouble in vehicles.

Facing protests, the Ministry of Economic Affairs put down the 10-year-old policy, effectively closing an outlet for the disposal of waste cooking oil.

“The impact is very big,” said Wang Ming-juei, general manager of New Taipei City-based Chant Oil Co, a processor of fat and oil products.

Chant Oil recycled 85 percent of the 7,000 tonnes of waste cooking oil produced by large, Western-style fast food chains around the nation last year, which it refined into biodiesel.

However, Wang said he is less than thrilled that, all of a sudden, his company has no way to shift the huge volume of biodiesel it has produced, other than by selling to EU countries for a loss.

Taiwanese biodiesel exports to Europe are subject to a 6.5 percent tariff, compared with exports from South Korea, which enjoy preferential treatment thanks to a bilateral free-trade agreement.

“South Korea is a strong competitor,” Wang said.

He added that although biodiesel is widely regarded as an efficient weapon against carbon emissions, since Chant Oil is now unable to sell the fuel at local pumps, it has had to “help other countries cut their carbon footprints while leaving Taiwan where it is,” as the rest of the world moves toward reducing climate change-causing gases.

The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) estimates that Taiwan produces 80,000 to 90,000 tonnes of waste cooking oil a year. Previously, most of that was recycled by biodiesel refiners and the rest was either made into soap or dumped into sewers.

Administration data showed that 10,000 more tonnes waste oil were exported in the first eight months of this year than in all of last year, which officials attribute to the halt of the domestic biodiesel policy.

The loss of that major option for recycling waste oil has encouraged some to turn to less scrupulous business practices, such as reintroducing waste oil into the food supply chain by selling it to companies like Chang Guann.

The scandal at Chang Guann — just one in a series of food safety problems with local manufacturers over the past years — prompted the EPA to launch a countrywide investigation into how waste oil is handled.

In just four days, it found that 42 percent of the 13,700 tonnes of used oil produced by small-scale restaurants and food stalls is collected by individuals, not companies, who have been dubbed “little bees” for the way they run back and forth gathering oil.

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