Stolen Restaurant Grease Symptom of Biofuel Craze

“I never knew restaurants got paid to get rid of this stuff.”Lt. Frank Cannella, North Bergan Police Department

Renewable energy just cannot catch a break.  Some have called the trend a conspiracy to destroy oil companies and make the solar companies rich; the Italian Mafia is skimming money off of wind turbines in Sicily; and now grease is becoming a hot commodity.  More businesses from the Jersey Shore to South Carolina are reporting losses due to thieves pilfering used grease before it can be processed into biodiesel.

It figures that garbage would become lucrative.  After all, Wayne Huizenga made a fortune from Waste Management before he dabbled into Blockbuster Video and professional sports teams.  And of course, the Tony Soprano jokes are easy to make.  But the occasional quirky example appears to be on the upswing.

One or two reports of pilfering started a couple years ago, when what the industry calls “yellow grease” often sold for about thirty cents a pound.  Only businesses in densely populated areas would be able to sell their used product—most restaurant owners were happy to just get rid of that waste.  So no one really seemed to notice or care when the occasional outdoor bins were emptied in the middle of the night.

But now the problem is becoming more serious.  There’s just no such thing as free grease these days, as biodiesel consumption has surged in use across the country.

David Miller, owner of the Kickin’ Chicken restaurant chain in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, noticed that his remittances from grease buyers had decreased by several thousand dollars the past several months.  Restaurants generally store grease in easily accessible areas, and even if they are locked, the thieves just bust the lock and abscond with the newest liquid gold.

The problem has also festered outside of New York City.  A Five Guys Burgers and Fries joint in North Bergen was a crime scene on Monday.  Two residents of Queens made the 18 mile trip through Manhattan and under the Lincoln Tunnel (not a fun drive if you have to do it), and attempted a second grease burglary just before 8:50 a.m.  Unfortunately for Youngil Kim and Byung Ho Choi, they were caught on surveillance tape committing the same act on September 11, and Canella’s crew were able to make the connection.  It turned out that the stolen grease was worth about $1400—not hard to believe, their fries are good—and then other local businesses started reporting to police that their grease had been disappearing, too.  Kim and Choi had quite the operation:  their vehicle was fitted with a plastic bladder to hold the oil, and a generator connected to a pump that sucked the oil out of the drums and into the van.

Could this be a sign that the renewable energy company is maturing, and will deal with absurd stories and hassles like everyone else?  Not everyone is upset: as one Environmental Leader commenter wrote

I’m sorry for the companies getting ripped off, but this type of publicity is great for us! It reminds people that there are plenty of opportunities to use what they once considered waste as a valuable resource. Cooking grease is such a great, tangible example that most people quickly understand it. But the same holds true for anything that might be hiding in your company’s dumpster that could have value to some other company – whether as a feedstock, or to be reused, upcycled or recycled. Go out to your dumpster, take inventory and lock up your new found valuables!

Bail for Kim and Choi, by the way, was set at 10K each, how many barrels is that?

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

2 responses

  1. I’m with the commentator. Not to applaud criminal behavior, but if anything this is good news for sustainable ends. Most of our country’s problems when it comes to (un)sustainability all effectively boils down to a mismatch in valuation–too many aspects of our lifestyles whose detrimental effects never make it to the bottom line or price tag.

    Something like this points to a new value being placed on the inherent, latent energy in a waste product. This is fantastic! What’s next? Stealing cardboard out of recycling bins? The closer our culture can get to having none of our waste be perceived as worthless is taking steps towards not really producing “waste” anymore.

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