United Kingdom Besieged By Cooking Oil Thieves

A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
March 25 2013 5:34 PM

United Kingdom Besieged By Cooking Oil Thieves

Fried Chicken
A bucket of KFC Extra Crispy fried chicken is displayed October 30, 2006 in San Rafael, California.

Photo Illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Crime is Slate’s crime blog. Like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter @slatecrime.

As if the British didn’t have enough to worry about—what with their miserable weather, Kate Middleton’s recent bout with crippling morning sickness, and the continued preponderance of “chavs”—the BBC now reports that the United Kingdom is under attack by devious gangs of used-cooking-oil thieves. Used cooking oil is in great demand, in the U.K. and elsewhere, because it can be converted into biodiesel fuel. Bootleggers will sneak into restaurant parking lots and siphon the oil out of holding tanks. Then, they’ll either sell the oil to biodiesel processing plants or process it themselves and sell the fuel on the black market. (I was as surprised as you are to learn that there’s a black market for biodiesel fuel. Does this extend to other ecologically friendly products? Can you also buy bootleg carbon credits?)


The story doesn’t say whether the bootleg biodiesel is any less safe or effective than its properly taxed counterparts. But it represents a big problem for the government. Up to 20 percent of the U.K.’s used cooking oil is stolen, thus depriving the government of tax revenue—25 million pounds’ worth per year, according to the BBC. As such, the authorities are starting to crack down. In December, two men were sentenced to two years in jail for stealing 220,000 liters worth of used cooking oil from grocery stores and KFC outlets. (“Finger nicking good,” said the Daily Mail.) I can just imagine the conversations in the prison yard. “What am I in for? Oh, I stole a swimming pool’s worth of old chicken grease. [brief pause] No, I’m not being cheeky. Hey, put down that shiv!” 

Cooking-oil theft happens in the United States, too, though as far as I’m aware KFC has not yet resorted to storing its used oil in safes protected by dynamite. As thievery goes, this seems relatively benign—it’s nonviolent, it’s good for the environment, and it probably stimulates business at local do-it-yourself car washes, from bootleggers desperate to get that grease-trap smell out of their upholstery.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.



Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Altered State
Sept. 17 2014 11:51 PM The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
Dear Prudence
Sept. 18 2014 6:00 AM All Shook Up My 11-year-old has been exploring herself with my “back massager.” Should I stop her?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 18 2014 7:30 AM Red and Green Ghosts Haunt the Stormy Night
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?