Hogwash Oil: A Profitable Business in China

October 8, 2007 12:00 am Last Updated: October 8, 2007 12:00 am

“Hogwash oil” is refined, inedible waste oil—of poor quality and unsanitary. It contains toxins and causes river eutrophication. If ingested, the oil destroys white blood cells and mucous membranes in the digestive system, causing food poisoning; it can cause cancer.

For a long time, people in China who are driven by profit have processed hogwash oil taken from sewers, waste water, and leftover food from restaurants. This hogwash oil is refined and sold to some small restaurants as lower-priced cooking oil. As part of an assignment, a graduate student from Wuhan Polytechnic University made friends with a person who processes hogwash oil. She learned that this person can make more than 10 thousand yuan (approximately US$1,200) a month by retrieving hogwash oil.

Finding a Person Who Makes Hogwash Oil

According to China News, last year Wang Le was assigned a school project. She was to find a quick and easy way to discern whether hogwash oil was used by restaurant owners.

To make hogwash oil, one takes the floating oil from sewer water or from leftover food thrown out of restaurants and then refines it.

Last November, after eight days of waiting outside restaurants, Wang found hogwash-oil-maker “A-tian” from Jiangsu Province in the middle of the night. A-tian told her that he had to come every day because if he didn't come for a day, the accumulated oil would be too much for him to carry away.

Making More Than $1,200 a Month

When he scooped the hogwash oil, all A-tian needed was a flashlight, a clasp, and four iron buckets, as well as his bicycle.

A-tian monopolized access to the sewers in front of the hotels and restaurants. If business was good, he could retrieve 5–6 buckets of oil. He normally got four buckets a day.

Every day, A-tian carried the buckets home with his bicycle. When he had enough to fill his pond (about four tons of oil,) he would refine the oil. On average, he could earn 150 yuan (about US$20) for every two buckets he took home.

A-tien told Wang that hogwash oil refiners seem to be small potatoes, but they can bring in more than 10,000 yuan a month, similar to what a white-collar worker in a foreign company would make in a month.

A-tian said the refined oil was delivered out of town by train instead of trucks. One time, the train carried 600 tons of oil at once.

Hogwash Oil Easily Finds Its Way to Dining Tables

So what's the usefulness of hogwash oil? An insider said, “Some people refine hogwash oil themselves. The better-looking hogwash oil can be sold to restaurants. The inferior, darker looking hogwash oil is sold for frying bread dough. The darkest oil is sold to the chemical industry as raw material.

Others sell raw hogwash oil directly to oil refineries as industrial raw material. There are people selling raw hogwash oil to pig farmers to feed pigs. Except for that sold to the refineries, the rest tends to flow into restaurants.”

Hogwash Oil Is Best Used in Automobiles

Professor Hu Haoquan from Dalian University of Technology pays close attention to the management of hogwash oil in Dalian City. Hu said that hogwash oil is a precious resource; it can be used to produce stearic and fatty acids, which are important raw materials for plastic, soap, and cosmetics.

In addition, hogwash oil can produce bio-diesel. Compared to vehicles using diesel and petroleum, the ones using bio-diesel can decrease carbon monoxide, hydrocarbon, and plankton, so bio-diesel is regarded as a new energy resource. It can be used with both petroleum and diesel engines. And the engines don't need to be rebuilt.

Hu said, “The food industry in Dalian is prosperous and produces tens of thousands of tons of hogwash oil. If hogwash oil can be handled properly, it can become a profitable industry. On the other hand, if it goes to illegal refineries, consumers' health will be at stake.”