Stealing Restaurant Grease for a Living

The increased prevalence of do-it-yourself energy kits for individuals to convert diesel engines to a bio-diesel source has been hailed by advocates as a clean, cheap, and green-friendly alternative to gasoline.  Conversion Kits, how-to guides, and promotion videos can be found all over and similar sites.  One of the promoted benefits is that the consumer can either get used grease oil free from restaurants or even get paid to haul away what was considered a waste product. 

The New York Times is reporting a new trend in which individuals are stealing this former waste product from restaurants:

Outside Seattle, cooking oil rustling has become such a problem that the owners of the Olympia Pizza and Pasta Restaurant in Arlington, Wash., are considering using a surveillance camera to keep watch on its 50-gallon grease barrel. Nick Damianidis, an owner, said the barrel had been hit seven or eight times since last summer by siphoners who strike in the night.

“Fryer grease has become gold,” Mr. Damianidis said. “And just over a year ago, I had to pay someone to take it away.”

…More after the jump.

Naturally, as the demand for a fuel source increases and the supply does not growing in tandem, the price will increase.  It almost appears as if the optimal strategy for those who first created the conversion kits would be to either patent the technology or just not advertise the technology if they want it to be a cheap and viable alternative to gasoline.

However, if the conversion kits are easy to reverse, then I would expect the price to hover around gasoline given the markets unregulated nature.  Individuals will only opt in as long as it is comparable to gasoline.  Thus, the minor tragedy of the commons problem has a market induced limit due to the substitutability of the two goods.  Yet, if bio-diesel gains a status similar to "fair trade" products or "organic" foods, then some segments of society may be willing to pay a premium over the price of gasoline in the name of the environment or social justice.  This would be a very interesting result as it would push the grease purely into the realm of a niche market and not as a true alternative to diesel.

Gathering "waste products" has been made illegal in some parts of the United States such as with the case of dumpster diving.  I am sure the push to criminalize and prosecute valuable waste will be quickly adopted.  Despite all of this, $2.50 a gallon for fuel still looks better than the current $4.00 around Binghamton.

About Michael A. Allen

Michael is an Assistant Professor in Political Science at Boise State University with a focus in International Relations, Comparative Politics, and Methodology (quantitative and formal). His work includes issues related to military basing abroad, asymmetric relations, cooperation, and conflict. He received his Ph.D from Binghamton University in 2011.

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