EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU) — There have been plenty of easy targets for thieves over the years. Copper, railroad tracks, car wheels, bikes, packages… the list goes on. One trend that has begun to see an increase in our area is likely one you wouldn’t expect… the theft of used cooking oil.

A reward sign can be seen on a cooking oil vat at a restaurant in Luzerne County

There has been a recent increase in the amount of cooking oil thefts from restaurants in our viewing area and one question on many people’s minds when they hear about it is, why? The answer, biofuel.

Biofuel from vegetable oil started being produced in mass quantities in the early 2000s and the industry has only grown since then. It was also discovered that used cooking oils could be converted into biofuel through a process called transesterification.

With gas prices constantly on the rise, the call for alternative or cost-saving fuel sources, such as biofuel, has risen greatly. The United States Department of Agriculture lists the price of used oil or "yellow grease" at roughly 50 cents a pound when just last year in 2020, it was roughly 25 cents a pound.

Those amounts might not sound like a lot at first, but when you take into account the vast amounts of used cooking oil many restaurants throw out on a regular basis, an oil thief could potentially make a few hundred dollars in an evening.

To prevent theft, Mahoney Environmental, a cooking oil recycling company, suggests the following:

  • Make sure that the grease level in your used oil storage containers isn’t fluctuating between visits
  • Install security cameras in the area where the used cooking oil is stored
  • Secure the used oil containers in a locked, fenced in area
  • Install an alarm that sends notifications when oil levels drop unexpectedly

If you suspect or see someone attempting to steal cooking oil, call the police immediately.