The Hidden Cost of Used Cooking Oil Waste in Indonesia

Indonesia is one of the world’s largest producers and consumers of palm oil, a versatile vegetable oil that is used for cooking, cosmetics, biofuels, and other products. However, the massive use of palm oil also generates a huge amount of waste: used cooking oil (UCO).

UCO is a waste product that is often disposed of improperly, causing environmental pollution and health risks. According to a study by the National Team for the Acceleration of Poverty Reduction (TNP2K) and Traction Energi Asia, Indonesia generated about 9.72 million kiloliters of UCO in 2019, but only collected 3 million kiloliters, or 18.5% of the total. Out of the collected UCO, only 570 kiloliters were converted into biodiesel, while the rest were either used as recycled cooking oil or exported.

The low conversion rate of UCO into biodiesel is due to several challenges, such as the lack of a systematic collection mechanism, the asymmetric distribution of UCO sources and biodiesel processing plants, the inefficient processing technologies, and the quality standards of UCO-based biodiesel. Moreover, the government’s policy to mandate the use of palm oil-based biodiesel (B30) in diesel fuel may reduce the incentive to use UCO as an alternative feedstock.

The unutilized potential of UCO for biodiesel production represents a missed opportunity for Indonesia to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, and create economic benefits for the urban poor. UCO can be a sustainable and low-cost source of biofuel, as it is biodegradable, non-toxic, and does not require additional land or water resources. UCO can also provide income and employment opportunities for the informal sector, such as waste collectors, small-scale processors, and biodiesel distributors.

Some initiatives have emerged to promote the recycling of UCO into biodiesel in Indonesia, such as Lengis Hijau, a social enterprise that collects UCO from hotels and restaurants in Bali and converts it into biodiesel for transportation, electricity, and heat generation[^3^][3]. Another example is Arkad, a company that collects and recycles UCO and plastic from households, restaurants, factories, and hospitals in Jakarta and other cities, and supplies ISCC-certified UCO to biodiesel manufacturers.

These initiatives show that UCO can be a valuable resource for Indonesia’s energy transition, if supported by appropriate policies, technologies, and awareness. UCO waste is not only a problem, but also a potential solution for Indonesia’s environmental and social challenges.

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