Got Theft?

Waste oil thieves are everywhere, so here's how to stop them
By Luke Geiver | November 17, 2010
Most biodiesel producers who use waste cooking oil as feedstock have heard about this, and many likely have experienced it. At 2 a.m., in the dark alley behind a local restaurant or at the back entrance in the parking lot, a van, or sometimes an expensive collection truck, rolls up to the waste grease collection container, pumps out as much waste oil as possible and leaves without ever being noticed. Under these conditions, the interloper is most likely stealing waste oil from a contracted collector.

"Everybody that I know in the industry has told me that they have had oil stolen," says Jason Biddle, chief sales officer for an up and coming biodiesel producer in Escondido, Calif., Buster Biofuels. "We were losing around $1,000 dollars a month, and that is just to resell the oil," Biddle says. "If we were making biodiesel it would be a lot higher." Biddle's case is typical and as he points out, he's not alone. In recent national news, two men were charged for stealing 700 gallons of waste oil from a Five Guys Burgers and Fries location in New Jersey on two separate occasions. Biddle notes that, at one point, he spoke with several other waste oil collection companies from his area about hiring a private investigator in the hopes of halting the problem. The National Renderers Association has also taken action and is currently working on a study to document just how much grease recyclers are losing to theft.

"The larger companies account the theft and the thievery into their profit and loss," Biddle says, but his company, Buster Biofuels, can't afford to lose any amount. Luckily, Biddle has put in the time and found a few answers to stop, at least for now, the problem. After spending nearly a week staked out at various locations in the middle of the night, the lack of sleep was enough for Biddle. "I called three of my competitors and told them I was setting up a sting operation and since I have done that, we haven't had any oil stolen." Biddle says just letting anyone else in an area who might consider slipping in during the night to steal oil know that the area will be under surveillance has worked for him. If at some point it stops working, he will consider cameras.

And he points out how to determine what type of thief you are dealing with. Biddle says a few locations that kept getting hit were most likely a home biodiesel producer, because the theft only amounted to five or ten gallons. "That is all they can fit in their car," he says. For larger amounts, think about what Biddle says. "Nobody is just going to drive around with a $40,000 pumping truck unless they are licensed."
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