Here's Why Thieves Are Actually Stealing Used Cooking Oil

"How many times are we going to be a victim before we take the law into our own hands?" recently asked a fed-up business owner (via News10). While you might attribute their emotion to something as alarming as an armed robbery, the reality is a little more unexpected. They, like many restaurants, were recently robbed of used cooking oil.

According to Insider, this is a common crime in which offenders drive to restaurants and siphon off used cooking oil from containers that are usually stored outside. These thefts are often more dramatic and disruptive than you'd think. Eyewitness News detailed a case of two oil thieves who led police on a high-speed chase before crashing into an elderly driver, while the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Missouri uncovered one man's huge conspiracy to steal and resell used cooking oil across five different states.

The thefts are a big problem, and News10 notes that in some areas of the country (including New York), the issue is growing. So, why exactly are thieves so desperate to get their hands on old grease? It certainly seems perplexing, but there's a simple answer.

There's a huge market for used cooking oil

It may seem worthless, but old cooking oil is recycled to be used in the production of dog food, cosmetics, and — most importantly — biodiesel (per The Day). Biodiesel is a clean and renewable alternative to traditional diesel, explains the Alternative Fuels Data Center, and as such is a highly valuable commodity. Biodiesel is one of the most expensive fuels, ranging between $4.89 and $5.25 a gallon. Plus, the cost of vegetable oil is at an all-time high, further explaining why criminals resort to stealing used oil instead of buying their own. 

Selling stolen grease is a lucrative crime. The Morning Call reports that some thieves net up to $3,000 a day on the black market. In the aforementioned Missouri case, a man made more than $5.8 million off the stuff before being intercepted by authorities. In total, $75 million of used cooking oil is stolen every year, a figure that doesn't account for the cost of repairing storage bins often damaged during the thefts.

The Northern Echo reports that police in the U.K., where this theft is also an issue, believe that some of the crimes are used to fund further criminal activities and organized crime. For example, Greenwich Time detailed an incident where thieves said they were working for New York-based "Russian bosses."