Cooking oil prices are surging so much that thieves are stealing used oil from dumpsters and selling it for $1,500 a day

Cooking oil prices are surging so much that thieves are stealing used oil from dumpsters and selling it for $1,500 a day
Gordon Chibroski/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
  • The price of vegetable oil has spiked, creating headaches for restaurants who rely on it for frying.
  • The used oil is also valuable, and thieves have been stealing it from restaurant dumpsters.

Vegetable oil prices are soaring, and it's leading to restaurants hiking food prices and thieves reselling stolen oil.

The value of cooking oil has risen sharply this year, straining restaurants who rely on it to fry foods like French fries and chicken wings, the Wall Street Journal's Jesse Newman and Heather Haddon reported. Some restaurants are stocking up, piling cases of the oil in their basements, or stretching their existing oil, filtering it more often so it can be reused.

But the used oil is valuable in its own right: Used cooking oil is collected and recycled to make diesel fuel. The price of used oil has risen 80% in the last year, to 66 cents a pound, according to the Journal, which cited data from price-reporting agency Fastmarkets The Jacobsen.

Selling the used oil has become so lucrative that there's been an uptick in thieves breaking into dumpsters, stealing the fry oil, and reselling it, according to the Journal.

Sumit Majumdar, president of Buffalo Biodiesel in Western New York, told the Journal that over the past 3.5 years, thieves have stolen $30,000 worth of used oil from just one restaurant he works with.


The company posts about oil thefts on Twitter, and as of Friday afternoon, it had posted about seven separate thefts at New York restaurants in the past 24 hours alone.

"These guys are making $1,500 a day," Majumdar told The Journal. "It's more lucrative than crack."

High oil prices, plus the thefts of used oil, are just two of the many issues plaguing restaurants right now. Chicken wing prices have spiked this year and stockpiles have been in tight supply due to a combination of pandemic-induced demand and the Texas storms in February, which decimated the state's hatcheries.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, meat, poultry, fish, and egg prices have all jumped year over year, and it's led to fast food and fast casual restaurants raising their prices to keep up with rising ingredient costs, as well as increased labor costs.