The export of UCO is increasing demand for palm oil in producer countries © AFP/Getty Images
The export of UCO is increasing demand for palm oil in producer countries © AFP/Getty Images

Used cooking oil linked to deforestation

Used cooking oil (UCO) has been touted as a green fuel source but a report has warned that supply chain uncertainties mean its use may be increasing demand for palm oil and deforestation.

A recent boom in the amount of UCO imported into the EU from Asia to produce biodiesel, which produces far less CO2 than fossil fuels in cars, has led to high hopes for the fuel source. Between 2011 and 2016 there was a 360% increase in use of UCO to produce biodiesel within the EU.

But a report by bioeconomy consultancy NNFCC expresses fears that the UCO is being replaced across Asia with palm oil from deforested areas.

UCO is classed as a waste product within the EU, which means fuel producers are potentially able to claim double carbon credits for using it in their fuels, creating soaring demand. 

Between April and December 2018 93m litres of fuel derived from Chinese imported UCO was produced in the UK while UCO sourced from the UK was used to produce 76m litres of fuel.

However, UCO in some parts of Asia is not classed as a waste product and forms a common ingredient for animal feed.

As a result the report fears that UCO formerly used to produce animal feed in Asia may be diverted to Europe, where it can be sold at a higher price, and the shortfall in Asian animal feed will be made up with palm oil.

This may explain the fact that palm oil imports into China are increasing, in line with the country’s increasing exports of UCO, the report said.

The report warned that as there were no globally agreed supply chain standards for UCO it was impossible to be sure UCO sourced from Asia met the same standards as that sourced from within the EU, where quality is more closely regulated.

“To meet the growing demand for UCO, sourcing and importing from outside the EU is the only legitimate option for increasing supply,” said the report.

“However, as there are no current globally agreed standards for UCO, suppliers are only required to meet the operator’s specifications, resulting in a wide variety of qualities and chemical compositions.”

Large-scale deforestation and the loss of natural habitats across Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand has been blamed on palm oil production, with Indonesia alone losing 3m hectares of forest between 2010 and 2015 to palm oil plantations.

“If the use of imported UCO is to continue, then confidence in its supply chain should be paramount; the certification process of UCO – specifically when sourced from outside the EU, where it is likely to be used as an animal feed – should be robust,” concluded the report.

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