Good Practice: Used Cooking Oil Reuse in Rethymno

A system to reuse used cooking oil in Crete, developed in the municipality of Rethymno.

According to the Waste framework Directive 2008/98/EC Used Cooking Oil (UCO) is classified in the category “edible oil and fat (20 01 25 code)”. UCO is a waste produced in the domestic sector, canteens, hotels, restaurants and food industry, existing in edible vegetable oil, which is used for frying food. Inappropriate disposal of UCO may generate major problems when discharged into sewerage systems (Tsoutsos et al. 2016). One litre of UCO can contaminate up to one million litres of water as reported by the World Health Organisation. EU members need to encourage the separate collection and the treatment of bio-waste in a way that fulfils a high level of environmental protection. Even though UCO generated in restaurants is often collected by authorized service providers, most countries lacks efficient systems to collect and treat UCO produced in households. Currently, less than 50,000 tonnes per year of UCO is collected from households across Europe. At the same time, potential resources should be at the level of 800,000 – 900,000 tonnes per year (EWABA, 2016).  UCO household collection thus, is of high importance and needs to be organized in the majority of EU countries. A successful household UCO collection system requires a well-designed dissemination campaign as citizens need to be well informed about both the necessity and the possibility to recycle their UCO.

A pilot system for UCO Recycling was set up in 2014 in the Municipality of Rethymno, initiated by the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Systems Laboratory (ReSEL) of the Technical University of Crete, to locally collect and exploit UCO. This pilot applied recommendations and good practices identified in the frame of the EU initiative RecOil, which was co-funded by the European Commission through the Intelligent Energy for Europe Programme, aiming to increase sustainable biodiesel production and its local market intake by enhancing UCO collection and transformation in 6 European countries (RecOil, 2017).

Rethymno, a Cretan small city of 55,000 inhabitants, was one of the pilots, where the lack of awareness among citizens and lack of collection systems led most consumers to pour UCO directly to the sink or soil. There was no previous experience or existing UCO collection system from households in the municipality, not even in the whole region.

The project in Rethymno applied different approaches: i) UCO collection in restricted locations (13 containers of 80 L in schools) and ii) collection points in public spaces (20 bins of 365 L).  The UCO collected was transferred to selected biodiesel producers for its transformation to biodiesel. The initiative was largely embraced by householders, as well as the whole school community and was actively supported by the local stakeholders including the Municipality of Rethymno, the Primary and Secondary Education Directorates, the Union of students’ parents and the Municipal Enterprise of Water and Sewage.

ReSEL was responsible for the set up, operation and management of the pilot UCO collection system and provided the Municipality technical advice and regular quality testing; also with educational activities, materials. Large-scale communication and training activities motivated the school’s community and all citizens. ReSEL also accessed the sustainability of the collection system and built on experience gained so as to further evolve it.

Through the participation in a new Interreg MED programme "COMPOSE - Rural communities engaged with positive energy", ReSEL aims to increase the rate of UCO recycling and further enhance the safe disposal in the city of Rethymno. An extended and efficient UCO collection system will be in place. The end result of this action is expected to be a well-functioning and sustainable local energy production chain. To achieve this, collection system will be expanded and collection bins will be optimized and converted to “smarts”. Through the smart management system, operational costs are expected to be reduced. In addition, fewer collection trips mean less fuel consumption and less greenhouse gas emissions. UCO will be transferred to a small-scale production unit that will be set up in Rethymno under the guidance of ReSEL. COMPOSE includes numerous sustainable energy projects aiming to increase the share of RES in energy mix strategies and plans in the MED territories participating. The project is expected to be finalized in 2019 (COMPOSE, 2017).

•    T.D.Tsoutsos, S. Tournaki, O. Paraíba, S.D. Kaminaris, "The Used Cooking Oil-to-biodiesel chain. Assessment of Best Practices and Environmental Performance", Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 54, 1 February 2016, 74-83.
•    EWABA 2016, European Waste-to-Advanced Biofuels Association Analysis of the current development of household UCO collection systems in EU
•    RECOIL: Promotion of used cooking oil recycling for sustainable biodiesel production Intelligent,, assessed on 5/10/2017
•    COMPOSE: Rural COMmunities engaged with POSitive Energy,