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Is Used Restaurant Oil the 'New Copper' for Thieves?

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If you've ever walked behind your local greasy spoon diner or fast food restaurant, you may have seen -- or smelled -- barrels, dumpsters or pits full of used up grease. And while you may have steered clear of these containers, thieves aren't.

As the price of crude oil rises, trends show that so does the price for yellow grease -- used cooking oil. According to NPR, used cooking grease is worth five times more than 10 years ago, selling for about $3.00 per gallon.

Yellow grease, which needs to be cleaned and processed before it can be used as biofuel, is more frequently finding use in vehicles or even as heating oil. A recent article in Gizmodo even said that Alaska Air has begun using biofuel such as this in place of petroleum on flights:

Alaska Airlines announced today that it is testing a 20 percent blend of biofuel derived from cooking oil to power 75 flights over the next few weeks.

[...]

Alaska estimates this will reduce the flights' greenhouse gas emissions by 134 metric tons, the equivalent of 26 cars' yearly emissions. And, if the entire Alaska fleet flew on this 20 percent mix, it'd save as much as removing 64,000 cars from American highways.

NPR reports that with the increased demand for the grease to be used as biofuel, restaurant owners have had to bring barrels inside establishments or lock them up. NPR records Tom Cook, president of the National Renderers Association, as stating that grease has become "the new copper."

Here are just a few recent examples:

  • Just last month, KWCH 12 in Wichita, Kan., reports, thieves were shown on surveillance cameras stealing from a Sonic. According to the report, the thieves told Sonic employees they were there to collect the grease -- posing as if from a legitimate grease collection company -- but they siphoned it into their own truck's storage containers. The culprits have not yet been caught.
  • In late October, thieves in Rock Hill, South Carolina, stole 200 gallons of grease from Wing King restaurant, according to WSOCTV. It was the second time within two days that grease theft had been reported in the area.
  • Earlier this month, St. Louis Today reports, two men in St. Louis were charged with theft of a barrel of grease, which was behind a Chinese restaurant.

Even with all the reports of this type of theft, according to NPR though, it's not often that the thieves are prosecuted:

"It's difficult to get law enforcement people to spend a lot of time on somebody who's stealing grease." One man who was convicted in Los Angeles paid his misdeanor fine left the courthouse, and "got right back in his truck, stealing grease," says Cook.

This is not just affecting and aggravating restaurants but for those who actually make a living collecting the grease, legally. Watch this Voice of America News report:

 

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