Yellow grease, also known as used cooking oil or used vegetable oil, is not necessarily something you would consider as a vital commodity on the black market, but cooking oil theft has been on the increase. In fact, some $75 million worth of used grease is stolen every year. But why would someone steal this seemingly pointless cooking ingredient, why is grease theft a popular crime these days, and what can we do about it?
The Potential for Profit
As the country is looking for more renewable fuels like biodiesel, grease thieves can build a small fortune selling used oil on the black market. If thieves can illegally siphon the grease, they can earn a pretty penny. But why steal grease? It might seem like something restaurants would pay to get rid of, but yellow grease recycling is the base for a variety of products such as animal feed and renewable diesel. As the value of used grease increases, the rise of grease theft from outdoor containers also rises with it.
But the crime does not just take money from the restaurant and the contracted service provider but also works to endanger the customers and store employees. Individuals who do not have an agreement with restaurants steal grease, which may not seem illegal, but is a bona fide crime. The seriousness of the issue has not been lost on local law enforcement agencies and companies looking to curb the situation. There are many companies dealing with a huge loss arising from Grease theft. Companies like Darling Ingredients are working hard to combat grease theft by employing their own security team of law enforcement professionals from various criminal backgrounds, such as corruption and murder cases. With a lengthy surveillance operation, it documented more than 66,000 pounds of used cooking oil over a 3-month period. Needless to say, grease is a substantial commodity.
How Does it Impact Communities?
While we can see how it affects restaurants, this valuable commodity has an impact on the environment. As these are stealing from restaurants that cater to families, the idea of spilled grease can pose a physical threat, for example, if a young member of restaurant staff finds themselves in a confrontation with a thief who is potentially working in other criminal activities. In addition, grease processing is detrimental to the environment. As the process of separating from water results in the water going back into the water supply, this can contaminate a municipal water supply.
What Are the Solutions?
The theft of grease continues to escalate, and while the punishments are minimal, it’s vital to incorporate more strict legislation. While the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc. (ISRI), has reported 50 states passing a law to combat the growth of metal theft, there is still a lot more that needs doing. While this can minimize thefts of grease in containers, the true way to communicate this is by making sure that the restaurant industry is aware of grease theft.
As you can see, there are many reasons people will steal grease, and out of all the valuable commodities, it is very much the dark horse in your restaurant.