Do you want grease with that? Apparently thieves do, as the leftover gunk that restaurants use to fry your food and then accumulate in their kitchens has become a serious commodity. As US refiners are processing record amounts of grease to meet government mandates for renewable fuels—3.84 million pounds were produced a day last year—there's now "an actual market for stolen oil," the president of a New York company that collects grease tells Bloomberg, calling it "like crack money." "It's almost like a pawn shop or scrap metal business." In Knoxville, Tenn., for instance, 45 grease thefts were reported in a matter of weeks. "Anytime diesel goes up, grease goes up," and "the thieves come along," says a driver for a licensed collector in the area.
With biodiesel now making up 30% of the demand for old cooking oil, and a pound of the waste bringing in 25 cents (the fuel itself is now up to $3 a gallon), some say thieves are growing more sophisticated, and may even have links to street gangs and organized crime. Meanwhile, in spite of its street value, some authorities say they just can't justify pushing resources toward the theft of waste, even if it is valuable, so thieves are enjoying something of a Wild West. "At the end of the day, no one cares about used grease," the grease collector's president says. No one, that is, except the people turning a profit. (Restaurants used to pay to dispose of their grease.)