The 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 grease.
The man 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.
The grease is traded on the booming commodities market. Its value has increased in recent months to historic highs, making it an ever more popular form of biodiesel to fuel cars and trucks (Photo by: Robert Gilhooly / Bloomberg)
Outside Seattle, cooking oil rustling has become such a problem that the owners of the Olympia Pizza and Pasta Restaurant in Arlington, Washington, are thinking of 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.
“Fryer grease has become gold,” Damianidis said. “And just over a year ago, I had to pay someone to take it away.”
Much to the surprise of 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.
In 2000, 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.
Biodiesel 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.
While 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.
“The last time kids broke in here they went for the alcohol,” said Damianidis, who fries a lot of chicken wings and cheese sticks. “Obviously they're stealing oil because it’s worth something.”
©2008/The New York Times