Nice catch: A man skims used cooking oil from the sewer.Photos: Andrew SteinStrolling along an alley lined with restaurants late one evening in Hangzhou, China, the fetid stench of sewage and rotting food wafted deep into my olfactory grooves. As I began to turn a pallid green, I’ll never forget the sight that jolted me back into consciousness: a lone man fishing in the sewer for the cooking oil swirling chunkily around the surface.
For months I had been hearing about a black-market sewer-oil industry, but the thought was just too difficult to digest. Living in a state of incredulity seemed like a good alternative to a compulsively upset stomach. That is, until I caught the aforementioned sewer-oil fisherman red-handed (literally, with a red flashlight in hand to distinguish swill-oil from plain sewage in the dark of the night).
I tried to talk with him but he eluded me, moving quickly down the street from sewer cover to sewer cover, skimming used oil from the sewer and plopping it in a large bucket. When I asked what he would do with it, he simply replied, “It will be reused.”
Now, I’m all for recycling. But there must be less gross ... Read more