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Grease From Bay Area Restaurants A Target For Thieves

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) -- Forget copper wire. Some opportunistic thieves have resorted to stealing restaurant grease to make a quick buck.

At Belly Burgers in San Francisco, everything is cooked to order from the Kobe beef burgers to the fresh cut fries. And it's not just their food; their used oil has become a hot commodity as well.

"It costs a lot of money to not only sign up a restaurant. Convince them to do the right thing with their waste cooking oil," said David Levinson of Got Grease, a cooking oil recycler.

After they are finished with the cooking oil, it's taken out back and stored in containers. But in the middle of the night, thieves are stealing the grease for profit.

"They'll sell it for a portion of its value, but they still make a decent amount of money. It's worth their time to go out and steal oil," Levinson said.

Surveillance video shows thieves pulling up to a grease bin, vacuuming dollars away. Recyclers said that biodiesel fuel costs are the culprit.

"There is a black market for yellow grease now as it's sometimes called," said Andrew Pannell of Dogpatch Biofuels of San Francisco. "Independent people will steal it here and there and use it for their own vehicles, diesels converted to burn vegetable oil."

As the price of grease has shot up from six cents a gallon to 50 cents a gallon, theft has become an industry problem.

Levinson of Got Grease said the thieves are cutting into his bottom line.

"It's tough to expand your business and get new restaurants when you're going to the restaurant and there's no cooking oil for you to collect," Levinson said.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture is cracking down with a program to catch the slippery thieves. In the meantime, recyclers are realizing its not easy being green.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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