One man's trash is another man's biofuel, which is why state agriculture officials are launching a program to crack down on restaurant grease thieves. The California Department of Food and Agriculture said Thursday that it's contracting with police to target areas where restaurants leave used kitchen grease out to be picked up by rendering facilities.
"Restaurants make arrangements with rendering plants in California to pick up that grease, haul it back to the rendering plant where it can be turned into either an additive for animal feed and then, as is happening more frequently now, biofuel," said Steve Lyle, a spokesman for the California Deptartment of Food and Agriculture.
Once thought of as the refuse of fast food joints and other restaurants, the grease has acquired new value as diesel fuel prices soar. The leftover grease can be converted into fuel for diesel cars and trucks, making it a sought-after commodity. A gallon of grease that was worth about 6 cents only five years ago, now sells for nearly 50 cents a gallon.
Police across the country are taking note of the increase in grease thefts.
The April 2011 issue of Render Magazine reported that Baker Commodities, an L.A.-area processing plant, suffered $2 million in damages from lost grease and broken equipment in 2010.
"It's a big problem across the country, but California has more restaurants, so there's a bigger loss,'' said Tina Caparella, the magazine's editor.
The Food and Agriculture Department is responsible for regulating grease transport. A spokesman said that the agency is using fees paid by rendering companies to fund police overtime in the areas hardest hit.
The first major crackdown is in-the-works in Southern California. The exact location is being kept secret while the operation is ongoing. but Lyle said that police are observing high theft areas for people picking up grease. Then, the officers stop these people and make sure they have the proper paperwork and are transporting the grease legally.
"We believe it is individuals who do understand the law and are circumventing it," Lyle said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story