Sellersville, PA

Greasy Mess a Hot Commodity

Gregory Vellner
What happens to that used cooking oil?Photo byAshwini Chaudhary(Monty)onUnsplash

NEWTOWN, Pa. -- What do the Brick Hotel here, Washington House in Sellersville, Lansdale Tavern in Lansdale and Captain Bob’s Seafood in Quakertown have in common? Delicious food? A scrumptious menu? Outstanding service? Yes, but…

All are victims of crime.

But thieves didn’t hit the Bucks and Montgomery County restaurants for food, money or credit-card numbers, but for what lately has become a valuable commodity – used cooking oil.

“Grease thieves have discovered a grease bin in the back of a restaurant parking lot is often an easy and open target,” according to DAR PRO Solutions, the nation’s largest recycler of waste streams from food production.

Used cooking oil, referred to by some today as “liquid gold,” now finds itself in the nationwide drive to find non-fossil, non-burning alternative energy sources. And one of those clean, non-petroleum alternatives – biodiesel – is found in recycled used cooking oil.

That’s why authorities say used cooking oil is a hot commodity – a product that recently was part of a botched theft attempt at the Brick Hotel, and one in repeated thefts from Lansdale Tavern in Lansdale, Montgomery County where a video camera once saw two men wearing a ski mask stealing used cooking oil from a receptacle outside.

“It’s very scary, really,” said Lansdale Tavern owner Julie Palerno, noting that her business has been struck 10 times in recent months.

Lansdale Tavern and the Brick Hotel, where the Department of Environmental Protection and Newtown Emergency Management took part in the oil spill cleanup, are among a number of area restaurants recently hit by cooking oil crooks looking for the product that’s beneficial to many corporations facing rigid emissions standards enforced by the Clean Air Act. Because biodiesel can be used in existing diesel engines without modifications, it is a sought-after product that could see oil vat thefts go up by about 50 percent this year.

Most restaurants and fast-food establishments contract with one of 72 U.S.-based waste oil collection sites and are paid an average of 28 to 30 cents per gallon for the used material. But if the used cooking oil is missing, there’s no rebate check for the restaurant.

Grease thieves “sell the used grease to a biofuel producer who doesn’t ask sourcing questions, robbing the restaurant of any rebate they may be entitled to,” said DAR PRO.

Thefts from area restaurants – add Faraco’s Pizza and Rossi’s Pizza in Quakertown to the hit list – make the crime story like a well-run black market, said one victim.

“We seem to be on a regular route of some type,” said Bob Dunlap Jr., co-owner, Captain Bob’s in Quakertown. “That’s what they do – hit one restaurant after another.”

Like at Washington House. On Jan. 21, 2023, Perkasie Borough police began to investigate the theft of 120 gallons of used cooking oil from the Sellersville restaurant. Said a report: “An employee of Buffalo Biodiesel was at the restaurant to pump the tank and found it to be empty. It was reported to have been full on Jan. 14, 2023.”

A check with other local restaurants found some have eluded grease thieves. At the Yardley Inn, 82 E. Aften Ave., an employee said there have been no incidents regarding used cooking oil. A spokesperson for Washington Crossing Inn, 1295 George Washington Memorial Blvd., said used cooking oil is secured until removed by a recycling company.

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As a professional journalist for several years -- reporter, editor, feature writer, columnist -- I handled a range of subjects. Breaking news, investigative series, government action, feature events, and staff feature writer with national entertainment magazine interviewing stars including Tom Selleck, Mel Brooks and Danny DeVito. No matter the topic, certain ingredients are key: truth, facts, objectivity, balance.

Bucks County, PA

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