Joey Wat, CEO of Yum China receives the ISCC certificate from Vasu R. Vasuthewan, Board Member of ISCC.

Yum China this week became the first restaurant company in mainland China to receive the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC) label for converting its used cooking oil into sustainable biodiesel.

According to a press release, the company launched a pilot of its cooking oil project in 2018 in Chengdu, where all Yum China-owned KFC locations in the city converted their used cooking oil to biodiesel. For the project, Yum worked with biodiesel plants, oil storage sites, and waste collection companies.

For many quick-service restaurants, cooking oils are essential for business; they’re used for frying, grilling, and numerous other cooking tasks around the kitchen. In recent years, restaurants have shifted away from oils packed with trans fats to so-called “healthier” options like sunflower and soybean oil.

But even these healthier oils take their toll on the environment (and your insides, but that’s a story for another day). The EPA notes that cooking oils, whether from vegetable or animal sources, can “cause devastating effects” on the environment: they can suffocate plants and aquatic animals, clog up shorelines, catch fire, and destroy wildlife.

China is one of the world’s largest producers of waste oil, which is a huge environmental risk (to say nothing of the country’s gutter oil problem), but also a huge opportunity if more companies commit to helping turn it into sustainable fuel.

Yum China operates all mainland China locations of Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut, and owns the Little Sheep, East Dawning, and COFFii & JOY brands. Factoring in all these restaurants, that’s more than 8,600 restaurants across the country. In other words, there’s a lot of cooking oil to be recycled, and a company of Yum’s status could help set a standard for other restaurants across the country.

Recycled oil isn’t the only sustainability initiative Yum China has been up to of late. In the same press release, the company announced it had introduced reusable baskets to over 6,000 KFC locations across China.

The introduction of reusable baskets is in keeping with KFC plans here in the U.S., which include the chain converting to 100 percent renewable plastics by 2025. According to the press release, the move is expected to save more than 2,000 tons of paper per year and cut down the total amount of waste in Yum restaurants by 20 percent on average.

China, meanwhile, is turning itself into a hotbed of activity for foodtech solutions. VC firm Bits x Bites just launched an incubator in Shanghai that partners startups with major CPGs like Danone and Coca-Cola. Waste reductions, be it oils, plastics, or other materials, will no doubt play a role in some of those partnerships moving forward.

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