A Tweet from the Derbyshire Roads Policing Unit has confirmed a surge in cooking oil thefts across the country as its value continues to rise, stating that “the trend for stealing cooking oil continues. It’s valued at about 50p a litre so thieves are making a living stealing it”.
M1. The trend for stealing cooking oil continues. It's valued at about 50p a litre so thieves are making a living stealing it. Two arrested in their latest van after the last was seized a few weeks back by @DalesResponse. Businesses - please secure any storage areas. #Crime pic.twitter.com/707hHQRMLu— Derbyshire Roads Policing Unit (@DerbyshireRPU) November 16, 2021
According to the BBC News, a spokesperson for the police claimed that “generally, the offences have taken place during the daytime and the oil has been taken from outside premises such as pubs and restaurants where they have been left ready for collection by genuine companies. We have also seen a few reports of offenders going to the premises and claiming to work for a genuine oil collection company”.
There are a number of different reasons as to why the price of cooking oil has risen and whilst the war in Ukraine has escalated the problem, the value of cooking oil actually started rising in October 2021 by a record 10%. So what else is affecting its price, to what extent are the thefts occurring and how can you prevent it happening to you?
Why has the value of cooking oil rocketed?
The rise in the price of cooking oil isn’t something that the industry has taken lightly. According to NPR, in April this year, oil prices rocketed to almost four times higher than they were at the start of 2019. Mahsun Aktas has recognised the effects the rising cost of oil will have on the industry as a whole, stating that, in relation to the rising prices; “we resisted. We said, ‘Let’s wait a bit, maybe the market will improve, maybe [prices] will stabilise’. But we saw that there’s no improvement [and] the customer cannot afford it”.
There are several reasons as to why the price of cooking oil has increased and much of it comes down to demand. Poor harvests in South America, thanks to labour shortages as a result of the pandemic, the demand for biofuel and the war in Ukraine are all reasons as to why the value of cooking oil has grown exponentially.
Ukraine supplies nearly half of the sunflower oil we use globally, according to NPR, with a further 25% coming from Russia. The war has interrupted much-needed shipments to the rest of the world and, therefore, sent the price of cooking oil through the roof.
Where here in the UK, we’re able to grow our own crops to make cooking oil, we don’t harvest nearly enough to supply the country with the volume we need to keep our food establishments going. Care homes and hospitals also rely on regular, reasonably-priced cooking oil supplies in order to function and so this change in value has impacted almost everyone.
NPR reported that the U.N Food and Agricultural Organisation recorded a record high price hike on vegetable oil in February 2022, increasing another 23% in March. Palm oil has experienced a more considerable increase of 200% and it’s set to rise even further as Indonesia bans cooking oil exports in order to protect domestic supplies.
As a result of the shortage, thanks to the aforementioned factors, many countries around the world are limiting the supply of cooking oil to supermarket shoppers, with stores in Spain, Italy, Turkey and the UK setting limits and rationing customers.
A lady called Emiwati, who goes by one name and runs a food stall in Jakarta, Indonesia, claims that she needs around 24 litres of cooking oil every single day in order to keep her business running.
Since January 2022, according to NPR, she’s struggled to ensure the cooking oil supply she needs and, when she can get hold of it, she’s paying highly-inflated prices; “I am sad. We accept the price of cooking oil increasing, but we cannot increase the price of foods we sell”.
Emiwati risks losing customers if she increases the price of her product any further, but then she also risks losing profits if she doesn’t raise the price tag. In this case, the inflated cost of cooking oil is also down, in part, to protests in Jakarta.
Businesses in London are also feeling the pinch as a result of the rise in cooking oil prices. Yawar Khan, who owns and runs Akash Tandoori, a restaurant in the heart of the capital, claims that a 20-litre container of cooking oil used to cost him around £22, but he is now getting invoices for around £38 a drum, says NPR. But he too understands that there needs to be a balance between what he charges and what the customer can afford to pay; “we cannot pass all the price [rises] to the consumer, that will cause a catastrophe, too”.
Even the biggest companies in the UK are struggling by way of cooking oil costs and shortages. NPR claims that Dove and Hellmann’s Mayonnaise have had to warn their investors that costs are highly-likely to rise in the second half of this year thanks to the shortage and immense price increase of palm.
NPR stated that a global food giant expects companies to change formulas and swap out ingredients for ones that are easier to get and cheaper to come by. However, as simple as this sounds, different types of oil have different properties, and so further research will need to be done before these changes can be implemented.
Where this change could help to outweigh the enormous cost of cooking oil, it comes down to crop quality and good weather. Bad crops and droughts could cause the same issues as the cooking oil shortage, putting businesses across many industries in a precarious situation either way. But this cooking oil shortage has driven the price and value of it up and thieves are starting to take notice.
Cooking oil thefts have surged across the country
According to a BBC news article, there have been 15 premises across Derbyshire that have been targeted by cooking oil thieves. Police who have been working on the case claim that both waste cooking oil and unused oil have been stolen in these instances, but these thefts have been occurring since late last year, with some of the first cases being reported in September 2021.
Recently, the thefts have been taking place in the following towns and villages in the Derbyshire area: Calver, Matlock, Bakewell, Bamford, Findern, Swadlincote and the Ashbourne area.
In October 2021, according to the same article, police arrested a 17-year-old boy and a 28-year-old man in connection with cooking oil theft from a pub in Calver, although both have been released pending further inquiries and investigations.
In November 2021, officers pulled over a suspicious vehicle on the M1 at Trowell services, heading southbound. Again, two men were arrested, both from London, in connection with cooking oil thefts in Betwys Coed, Wales. The investigation has since been passed over to the Welsh police force to deal with.
The same day, the Derbyshire Dales Response Unit stopped another vehicle on the M6 and the occupant of the van was quickly arrested as a result. The police have since been advising local businesses to keep cooking oil supplies somewhere safe and secure to avoid being stung by criminals.
According to Wales Online, the Welsh police force explained in a Facebook post; “We have been made aware of a crime trend involving the theft of used cooking oil recently. Although this would seem a strange thing to steal, used cooking oil has value for things like biofuels and other purposes. We would ask all food outlets in the area to be alert for this type of crime”.
Two men were stopped in England and arrested under suspicion of cooking oil thefts from Conwy, a small Welsh town in the North of the country. It’s believed that cooking oil is being transported from all over the country to the south of England for processing. Again, the police have urged establishments to safeguard against cooking oil thefts.
Grampian Online reported that three men were charged in connection with cooking oil thefts across the North East of the country and Tayside in March 2022. All three men appeared in court at Aberdeen Sheriff Court, with DC Lewis Ingram stating; “Our enquiries into these incidents remain ongoing and I would encourage anyone who believes they may have been the victim of a theft to report it. Anyone with information is asked to contact us on 101”.
Also in March 2022, cooking oil was stolen from a hotel in Stonehaven. PC Mike Urquhart said of the incident; “I would advise restaurants, hotels and fast food outlet owners to be particularly vigilant and report any suspicious activity to the Police via 101. This appears to be a very sophisticated and organised group of criminals who have the ability to travel throughout the country committing these crimes. Used cooking oils are being stolen across the country and being taken south to be processed. If you have any doubts, call the company that normally makes your used oil collections in order to verify identities. Thieves are, on occasion, presenting false identification”.
In March 2022, the Norfolk Police investigated the theft of cooking oil from a number of businesses in Great Yarmouth and Acle, arresting three men in the process. Two businesses were also targeted in Burgh Castle and Bradwell, reporting that several drums of used cooking oil had been stolen from their premises.
Sergeant Kelvin Gillies said; “Following a recent spike in the cost of crude and heating oil, we are unfortunately seeing an increase in both cooking and heating oil-related thefts across the county and nationally. Last week’s arrests in Acle form part of our wider investigations as a police force into this type of crime. We will be increasing police patrols in rural areas, while continuing our enquiries into the reports we’ve received, and we would encourage anyone with information that could help our investigations into oil theft to report them to us either via our website, or the 101 telephone number”.
What effect has cooking oil thefts had on businesses?
According to a BBC News article, it’s said that cooking oil theft costs the Treasury, on average, £25 million a year in “lost duty” and this is only set to increase. During this modern age and at a time where we’re all looking to reduce our carbon footprints, biodiesel and other types of biofuel are sought after and are being used far more frequently than they were a decade ago.
However, most biofuels are derived from used cooking oil and, as the value of it goes up and as demand for biofuel heightens, thieves are making a career out of sourcing and stealing cooking oil from restaurants and takeaways alike. They will then turn it into biofuel and sell it on the black market.
“As much as 20% of used cooking oil produced in the UK is stolen. HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) said it is monitoring the trade closely. HMRC said it did not know how many people were producing biodiesel. There are people out there now who want to steal what used to be considered as waste because it’s now a valuable resource. The duty and the VAT is about 80p a litre but then, if you’re stealing the material you’re not giving any revenue to the person that resource belongs to so they end up producing biodiesel quite cost effectively”
, according to Adam Baisley, Commercial Director at Olleco.
One of BBC’s 5 live investigative programmes found that as much as 30 million litres of illicit biofuel could have been made as a result of the rise in cooking oil thefts. However, this isn’t a new problem. In 2013, the HMRC shut down 24 illegal biodiesel sites, with this figure expected to rise dramatically this year and into the next.
With companies such as Cater Oils giving cash incentives or credit notes against cooking oil supplies to collect used cooking oil, takeaways, bars, restaurants, caterers and other establishments are losing out on the opportunity to gain financial rewards at a time when they’re needed most by independent businesses who are doing their best to survive.
How to prevent cooking oil theft
- Making sure oil levels are regularly checked
- Installing automatic movement sensors to deter thieves who operate at night
- Installing lockable fencing to screen tanks from view of the road and streets
- Installing and using lockable access gates
- Installing an alarm system
- Keeping an eye out for suspicious people nearby
- Asking for ID if thieves claim to be subcontractors
- Not approaching or confronting a thief if you suspect them
- Calling 101 if you suspect someone to be a cooking oil thief