There’s a new hot commodity on the black market these days and you’d never guess what it is. It seems thieves across the country are cashing in by stealing used cooking oil from the back alleys behind restaurants, and reselling it to recyclers who then process it and sell the processed biodiesel to someone in the transportation industry. You’d think someone would start cracking down on these petty green criminals, but it seems police departments across the country are turning a blind eye to the unlawful acts. Classified as a misdemeanor in some areas, cops can’t charge the criminals with much more than a fine. In other places, however, some used cooking oil thieves are getting a much larger punishment.

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Generally, restaurants with used cooking oil hire a recycling company to come around and pick up their fry sludge and they get paid. Now thieves are getting paid, and because of new government mandates that call for an increased use of renewable fuels in the transportation industry, biodiesel is hot and selling for a pretty penny — about $3 a gallon. So as a reaction to the new legislation, as the price of oil goes up, so does the price of renewables. Given that gas prices have soared in the past few years, biodiesel made from cooking oil has attracted lots of attention.

One restaurant owner in Rock Hill, Missouri has had about $2,000 worth of cooking oil stolen from him this year alone. In some states, like California and Virginia, police have started cracking down on the oil thieves. In Arlington, Virginia recently two oil thieves were arrested and charged with possesion of burglarious tools, destruction of property, grand larceny and grand larceny with intent to sell. Where such heavy punishment is not expected, thieves are still rampant and some restaurants have resorted to locking up their fuel or keeping it inside the restaurant at night in hopes of safeguarding their precious used commodity.