An environmental organisation is investigating whether palm oil which washed ashore from last week’s spill could be “upcycled” into candles and soap.

Ken Ching, chairman and co-founder of the Eco-Education & Resources Centre, urged beach clean-up volunteers not to directly dispose of the solidified oil because it would be not be environmentally friendly. He said that the group is looking into the possibility of holding a workshop to help people transform the substance into candles in time for the Mid-Autumn Festival in October.

Depending on whether the oil has been contaminated by sand, trash or saline, Ching said that it may be possible for the substance to be converted into soap.

See also: Palm oil spill: Hong Kong gov’t closes more beaches as minister vows to hasten clean-up

Lamma Island. Photo: Robert Lockyer

The government said on Tuesday that it had collected approximately 93 tonnes of the substance on the sea surface and at the beaches since Hong Kong was notified of the spill. According to Deputy Director of Environmental Protection Elvis Au on a RTHK programme, one of the cargo vessels caught in a collision last Thursday was transporting 9,000 tonnes of palm oil, though he was uncertain how much of it had leaked into the ocean.

Palm oil production is linked to deforestation and loss of habitat for endangered species such as orangutans, elephants, and tigers. The industry is also responsible for air, soil, and water pollution, which contributes to climate change.

According to Ching, the ERC will soon be releasing a “recipe” that will allow citizens to re-purpose palm oil waste collected during beach clean-ups.

See also: In Pictures: 10 Hong Kong beaches closed after cargo ship collision causes palm oil spill

Photo: Facebook/Gary Stokes.

Photographs from affected beaches on Lamma Island on Wednesday show rotting and dead fish and animal carcasses, as well as wild animals consuming hydrolysed oil that had been washed ashore.

Rotting rat carcass (L) and wild animal eating palm oil (R) seen on Lamma Island. Photo: Robert Lockyer

NGOs such as Eco Marine, Green Power, and Eco Resource Centre have issued emergency appeals for citizens to participate in locally-organised beach clean-ups in the Lamma Island community. Daily clean-ups have been scheduled through till Friday from 3pm to 6pm at Nga Kau Wan and Tai Wan To Beach on Lamma Island.

Environmental organisations have warned that high concentrations of palm oil may be hazardous to small children or animals upon ingestion. Volunteers have been advised to wear protective gloves when handling the material.

Jun Pang

Jun Pang is an independent writer and researcher. She has previously worked in NGOs advocating for refugees' and migrants' rights in Asia and Europe.