Restaurant Grease Thefts Soar

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

When fans of bio-diesel first claimed they were running their [former] oil burners on "free" fuel– restaurants' abandoned cooking oil and grease– we predicted the fat bubble would burst. And so it has. The New York Times reports that "yellow grease" has risen from 7.6 cents per pound (2000) to 33 cents a pound, or almost $2.50 a gallon. And so we delve into the murky– or is that cloudy?– world of grease theft. The Old Gray Lady weaves a strange tale of late night Burger King raids, private dicks working for grease collection and rendering companies, shady environmentalists, and (as always) befuddled cops. Oh, and a lawyer who specializes in defending the "grease rustlers." "Once 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 theft.” And a lot of times it is. The unsolved 2,500-gallon Burger King heist chronicled at the outset was worth more than $6,000 on the black (yellow) market. There's only two elements missing from this tale of low life and high fat: the drivers who buy the stuff that "fell off the back of a dumpster" and government intervention. How long before the liquid gold is regulated and taxed? Take our word for it: not long at all.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • 50merc 50merc on May 30, 2008

    Score one for America, the fast food nation. But I think grease thieves would starve in Britain. Based on my brief experience, their fish and chips is cooked in oil that hasn't been refreshed since Queen Victoria died. The only thing that surprised me about the NYT article is reading restaurateurs used to give the stuff away that and San Francisco collected grease as a public service. A long time ago I first noticed "property of xyz" labels protecting waste grease. Maybe we're more "waste not, want not" conscious in flyover country.

  • Quasimondo Quasimondo on May 30, 2008

    So, the lesson learned is, "Save the world, eat more fries."

  • Samir Samir on May 30, 2008

    I have a year's worth of oil changes in used motor oil in bottles outside my house. I keep meaning to take them to a recycler, but never get around to it. Maybe if I put them in a more visible location, someone will take them off my hands!

  • Yankinwaoz Yankinwaoz on May 30, 2008

    Remember how the character Tyler Durden in "Fight Club" made a living? Now instead of soap, he could sell his product as biofuel. For those who haven't read the book/seen the film, he steals bags of liposuction bio-waste from plastic surgery clinics and then renders it into designer soap that he sells to high-end stores.