Add this to the list of waste materials being ‘scavenged’
– from front page of today’s
New York Times:
As Oil Prices Soar, Restaurant Grease Thefts Rise
bandit pulled his truck to the back of a Burger King in Northern
California one afternoon last month armed with a hose and a tank.
After rummaging around assorted restaurant rubbish, he dunked a tube into a
smelly storage bin and, the police said, vacuumed out about 300 gallons of
was caught before he could slip away. In his truck, the police found 2,500
gallons of used fryer grease, indicating that the Burger King had not been his
first fast-food craving of the day.
Outside Seattle, cooking oil rustling has become such a problem
that the owners of the Olympia Pizza and Pasta Restaurant in Arlington, Wash.,
are considering using a surveillance camera to keep watch on its 50-gallon
grease barrel. Nick Damianidis, an owner, said the barrel had been hit seven or
eight times since last summer by siphoners who strike in the night.
grease has become gold,” Mr. Damianidis said. “And just over a year
ago, I had to pay someone to take it away.”
the surprise of Mr. Damianidis and many other people, processed fryer oil,
which is called yellow grease, is actually not trash. The grease is traded on
the booming commodities market. Its value has increased in recent months to
historic highs, driven by the even higher prices of gas and ethanol, making it
an ever more popular form of biodiesel to fuel cars and trucks.
yellow grease was trading for 7.6 cents per pound. On Thursday, its price was
about 33 cents a pound, or almost $2.50 a gallon. (That would make the 2,500-gallon
haul in the Burger King case worth more than $6,000.)
is derived by processing vegetable oil or animal fat with alcohol. It is
increasingly available around the country, but it is expensive. With the right
kind of conversion kit (easily found on the Internet) anyone can turn discarded
cooking oil into a usable engine fuel that can burn on its own, or as a cheap
additive to regular diesel.
last time kids broke in here they went for the alcohol,” said Mr.
Damianidis, who fries chicken wings and cheese sticks. “Obviously
they’re stealing oil because it’s worth something.”
there have been reports of thefts in multiple states, law enforcement officials
do not compile national statistics and it remains unclear whether this is part
of a passing trend or something more serious.
suspects in a growing number of grease infractions fall into a range of
categories, people interviewed on the matter said, as grease theft is a crime
of opportunity. They include do-it-yourself environmentalists worried about
their carbon footprints, warring waste management firms trying to beat each
other on the sly, and petty thieves who are profiting from the oil’s
rising value on the black market.
a new oddity,” said Officer Seth Hanson of the Federal Way Police
Department, near Tacoma, Wash. He said thefts occur outside at least
a couple of restaurants there each week. “We’re trying to get an
eyeball on how well-organized it is, if at all. To date, we haven’t been
very successful in finding anybody.”
have been reported in at least 20 states, said Christopher A. Griffin, whose
family owns Griffin Industries, one of the largest grease collection and
rendering companies in the country. The problem has gotten so bad, Mr. Griffin
has hired two detectives to investigate thefts around the country.
is theft,” said Mr. Griffin, who is based in Cold Spring, Ky.
“I don’t care if you’re stealing grease or if you’re
from a restaurant that does a high volume of frying one kind of food —
for example, a fried-chicken chain — is at a premium because of its
relative purity. The large-scale producers of grease, restaurants mostly, own
their old oil and in recent months have even made a small profit by selling it
of the grease’s rancid odor, most restaurants usually store it out back
with the trash.
you put something in the trash, it’s abandoned property,” said Jon
A. Jaworski, a lawyer in Houston
who represents accused grease thieves. “A lot of times, it’s not
most restaurant owners and grease collectors say that grease is not free for
a new fight for the product, definitely a whole new demand sector,” said
Bill Smith, a market reporter for Urner Barry’s Yellow Sheet, an industry
newsletter that tracks yellow grease. “Grease theft is becoming a bigger
and bigger issue.”
case of the Burger King theft, in Morgan
Hill, Calif., the
police were alerted to suspicious activity by a neighbor who runs his own grease
collection and recycling business and is on the lookout for rustlers.
through town, the neighbor, Mark Rosenzweig, said he spotted the
suspect’s truck because “it stuck out.” He said he followed
it for blocks before it pulled into the Burger King. Mr. Rosenzweig said he
knew the man who holds the Burger King grease account, so he called him.
had to give everybody a roadside tutorial on grease theft,” Mr.
Rosenzweig said of his next call — to the police. “Ten years ago we
couldn’t give this stuff away. Now everybody’s fighting over
suspect in the case, a 49-year-old man who said he was from Las Vegas, has yet to enter a plea, and is
due in court next in July.
fast-food restaurant produces 150 to 250 pounds of grease a week. Many do not
even know when a theft occurs because it usually happens overnight. Most
security cameras and night watchmen are focused on cash registers, not the
do you go after?” said Jason Christensen, a trader of fats and oils for
the AgriTrading Corporation, in Minnesota.
“I sense you’ll start seeing more surveillance equipment put in to
monitor these storage facilities at the restaurant. As the price goes up, you
can afford to spend a little more to protect your interest.”
is so much interest in grease these days.
of San Francisco
has its own grease recycling program run through the Public Utilities
Commission called SFGreasecycle, which collects discarded vegetable oil from
city restaurants at no charge and recycles it into biodiesel for use in the
Biodiesel, a company in Sedgwick,
Kan., says it offers a
top-quality fuel made from local cooking oils.
Healy, the owner, has contracts to collect the raw grease from several
franchises around town.
particular night not too long ago, 9 out of 15 were stolen,” he said of
the grease bins. “That’s a majority of the oil and it was a big
kick in the stomach.”
Olympia Pizza and Pasta, Mr. Damianidis, who now sells his grease for a small
monthly fee, finds the problem of stolen fryer oil quite annoying and
distracting. And he wants to stop the thefts. He is leaning toward a security
camera and hoping for the best.
cook food,” Mr. Damianidis said. “I’m not going to stay up
until 2 in the morning trying to catch someone stealing a barrel of grease.”
Brooklyn, NY 11225
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