Cleaning up: Cameroon chemist turns oil waste into soap

The disposal of used cooking oil and fat from food waste is an issue facing cities around the world. Without proper management, it can clog up sewers and drains, pollute the environment, and spread disease.
 
Martial-Gervais Oden Bella, an industrial chemistry technician from Cameroon, has turned his scientific expertise to finding an innovative solution to this problem.
 
His Douala-based company, GIC Bellomar, finds local solutions to the problems and needs of the population. Its operations range from manufacturing essential oil from orange peels, to making pot bags that help households save gas by finishing cooking without a heat source.

But the company’s most popular products are the soaps and detergents it produces from used cooking oil - a raw material that Bella and his collaborators collect from hotels and restaurants in the coastal city.

“A study done in 2013 showed us that the majority of used cooking oil from Douala’s hotels was being thrown into the environment. This was more than 20,000 litres of oil which was being dumped each year, and that’s a huge amount,” said Bella.

“As part of our research, we wondered what can be done with these oils. We then carried out some analysis that showed us that these oils still have physicochemical properties that can help saponification [the conversion of fat or oil into soap]. So we started using them to make laundry soap, household soap and now powdered detergent.”

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