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As gas prices rise, so do used grease thefts

May 25, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Authorities say there's been an upswing in thefts of used cooking oil at restaurants in Southern California.

Police recently pulled over a tanker truck suspected of carrying stolen grease. Police estimated that at least 180 gallons of the stolen cooking oil from a restaurant in Agoura could be worth $1,000. Two men were arrested.

In Conejo Valley, the used oil at Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill is stored in a locked shed and locked containers. Someone sawed off the locks and siphoned the grease. The grease usually is used in making livestock feed.

"We've been approached to sell the byproduct and any runoff and any grease we have from cooking things," said Alex Benes, a restaurant partner. 'People turn it into biofuel."

The yellow grease, as it's called, has gone up in value as the price of gasoline has gone up. So has the theft.

About 3 billion pounds of used oil is produced in the U.S. each year.

One byproduct recycling company based in Kentucky estimates it loses about 1 million pounds of used cooking oil a week to theft. Last year, the value of the yellow grease was nearly $2 a gallon.

The National Renderers Association says the used grease jumped to $3 a gallon this year as the price of gasoline rose. Ten years ago the grease was worth only nine cents a gallon.

Wood Ranch's used oil is picked up by Standard Biofuels. The restaurant gives the company the grease and gets a rebate on unused oil.

"It's no surprise to me that when gas prices reach the level they have that people will do anything to make a buck off of anything that's out there," Benes said.

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