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How to Eliminate Used Cooking Oil Theft

The question of how to eliminate used cooking oil theft has vexed UCO collectors, police and renderers for years. With the increase in the value of used cooking oil, the theft of used oil from restaurants has become big business. Thieves are increasingly brazen and the thefts have hurt the bottom lines of financially pinched restaurants.

Yet California has successfully addressed the problem of how to eliminate grease theft. What did the state do?

Used Cooking Oil Theft in New Jersey Today

Today used cooking oil theft in NJ is treated as a petty crime. Organized gangs steal millions of dollars of UCO every year. Yet few thieves are charged, convicted or end up paying much of a price. Few go to jail or have vehicles impounded. Their thievery mostly occurs at night, in unmarked vans and the UCO is sold to unscrupulous renderers. At times, thieves show up during the day at restaurants claiming to be subcontractors to legitimate collectors. Police and prosecutors have few tools to work with. Thieves that are apprehended are quickly back on the street resuming their crimes.

But cooking oil theft is not a petty crime and that is what California recognized. The dollars associated with theft are large as is the damage to property and the risks faced by employees and restaurant owners.

California’s approach to Eliminating Used Cooking Oil Theft”

Today, anecdotally, collectors in California tell us that the theft of used cooking oil has been greatly reduced from a few years ago. Collectors can even use plastic containers rather than heavy steel, locked tanks with little fear of theft.

California’s approach to eliminating the theft of used cooking oil has been to:

  • Increase the penalties for UCO theft
  • Include penalties for transporters, renderers, collectors and their owners
  • Allow the impounding of vehicles
  • Require state registration for all participants
  • Require written/electronic manifests for transporters, renderers and collectors

California AB 1566, passed in 2015 provided penalties as follows: 

  • 1st offense $1000 fine and up to 30 days imprisonment
  • 2nd offense $5000 fine and up to 30 days imprisonment
  • 3rd offense $10,000 fine and up to 6 months imprisonment.

This is a deterrent with more teeth than in most states.

In California, every participant (transporter, collector, renderer) must maintain records showing every pickup or purchase including business, location, time, date and amount collected. Every participant must be licensed with the state and display decals with identifying numbers on the doors of vehicles. A transporter that is unlicensed or who fails to display identifying decals can be detained and have their vehicle impounded.

 A renderer who purchases used cooking oil (inedible kitchen grease (IKG)) in California law) from an unlicensed transporter is guilty of a criminal offense. Records of purchases by renderers or pickups by transporters must be maintained for not less than 2 years and be available for inspection by peace officers or inspectors. Every purchase by a renderer of UCO from a transporter must be documented similarly.

While having significant deterrents written into law provides benefits to legitimate transporters and collectors it invariably comes down to enforcement, which appears to be happening in California.

How to Eliminate Used Cooking Oil Theft-the New Jersey Legislature

The NJ legislature has considered bills to step up enforcement of rules requiring manifests for transporters and renderers and penalties for theft of used restaurant grease. Bill S934 introduced in 2018 , the Consolidated Regulated Grease Recycling Act moved in the right direction but did not go as far as California’s regulations and is in need of additional structure and real penalties, not community service.  Unfortunately, that bill appears to have died in committee, the Senate Environment and Energy Committee.

What you can do to eliminate used cooking oil theft

Contact your NJ state representative and lobby for a bill emulating California’s AB1566 and put some enforceable regulations with real penalties in place to deter the thieves who are stealing from restaurants, transporters and renderers by filling out the form below.

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