Caught Grease-Handed: Cooking Oil Banditry on the Rise

You see restaurant grease, eco-criminals see easy money.
For a new wave of criminals, restaurant grease is as good as gold. (Photo: David Evans / Getty)
Jun 7, 2012· 1 MIN READ
Salvatore Cardoni holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.

In the wee hours of June 2, two men exited an unmarked car in an alley outside a Boston-area restaurant. Under the cover of darkness, they removed their tools: a pump and a plastic siphon. Next, they went to work stealing approximately $500 in used restaurant grease, reports The Boston Globe.

Yes, restaurant grease.

As we reported last fall, eateries the country over have been hit with a wave of thefts in which eco-criminals make off with cooking grease, which is then sold to recyclers, who in turn sell the processed biodiesal to the transportation industry.

“It’s become the new copper,” said Tom Cook, president of the National Renderers Association in Alexandria, Virginia, in November.

Once used almost exclusively for animal feed, yellow grease, or inedible kitchen grease (IKG), is “an elixir in the booming green economy,” says the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

According to NPR, a pound of grease sells for around 40 cents a pound on the black market—five times higher than ten years ago.

Police can’t charge criminals with more than a fine, as the act of stealing grease is still classified as a misdemeanor in most areas of the nation.

“It’s difficult to get law enforcement people to spend a lot of time on somebody who’s stealing grease,” said Cook.

In Boston, where police are still searching for the slippery duo, detective Leo Coppens told WBZ NewsRadio 1030 that the notion of grease-banditry was new to his department. “I guess we’ll be watching out for unmarked cube vans filled with Crisco,” he said.

The Boston heist mimics others of a similar nature up and down the East Coast, reports The Atlantic.

Grease criminals have staged similar heists recently at a Don Pablo's restaurant in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, siphoning about $100 of the yellow gold from a storage drum, and at a diner in Norwalk, Connecticut, where a thief cut a lock to access a grease-holding area at 1:30 a.m. and made away with about 40 gallons. And these two guys allegedly ripped off an Orange County grocery store to the tune of 500 gallons of grease using a waste-removal truck.

The one silver lining in this story, as Grist points out, is that the biodiesel market is strong enough to produce a black market.

What do you think the crime should be for a person who steals restaurant grease?