SINGAPORE – For the past few months, Madam Valerie Sim eked out a living by collecting waste oil from coffee shops in Jurong.
She would wait until the coffee shops were closing and then siphon the oil from grease traps with a co-worker.
They would open the grease trap lid and pump out the oil into oil tanks. The tanks would then be loaded onto their company lorry and taken to the company to be processed into biodiesel.
Some coffee shops would even collect used oil in 1,000-litre tanks she provided them, she said. They would then call her to pick up the tank when it was nearly full.
Madam Sim, 50, who was paid on a daily basis for her work, said that how much she earned depended on how much oil she took back to the company, Sky-Land (Oils & Fats).
“If there was no oil, there would be no pay. Sometimes, we got very little oil and there would be no need to send it back to the office,” she said.
Her work all but dried up when a photograph of her and her co-worker, who wanted to be known only as Mr Ng, siphoning oil at a coffee shop in Jurong West was posted on citizen journalism website Stomp on Feb 12. It sparked speculation among netizens over whether the oil was being reused for cooking.
The concerns were raised following a scandal in China where waste oil was collected, processed and sold as recycled cooking oil.
In Singapore, people have been seen drawing waste oil from grease traps near hawker centres in Yishun and Toa Payoh in the past week.
Madam Sim said that a few weeks after her photograph was published, she and Mr Ng were stopped by officers from national water agency PUB while they were collecting oil at a coffee shop in Jurong.
They were told to report the next day to the main office of the National Environment Agency (NEA) for investigation, which they did.
Madam Sim said that the agency advised her to stop work for the time being.
They also asked her and Mr Ng to report to the NEA office again on Monday.