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Theft of Cooking Oil


Biodiesel, known as “chip shop fuel”, is mainly derived from vegetable-based cooking oil and is being utilised, through a chemical process called transesterification, as an environmentally friendly alternative to diesel. As a result, thieves and organised criminal gangs are targeting businesses such as takeaways, pubs, restaurants and chippies to steal the used oil to sell on to make biofuels for use in diesel vehicles or for uses as an alternative to heating oil. This is because the significant financial value of this asset makes used oil an attractive target for both the opportunist and determined criminal. 

This by-product becomes a target because businesses cannot dispose of their used cooking oil by pouring it down the drain due to the environmental impact and must arrange for it to be taken away by a registered waste carrier. Failure by a business to dispose of used cooking oil correctly may result in a prosecution under the Food Safety Act 1990. As a result, used oil is often stored in a variety of storage receptacles, which can range from small barrels to large tanks and are often stored at the rear of their premises or in a secluded location of the business premises out of sight from the public. Because the used oil is stored and can remain in situ at a business premises for some time until it is collected, criminals are exploiting this process by either masquerading as a legitimate recycling company or targeting unsecured premises to steal the oil before it can be officially collected.

Further crime

Unfortunately, this can often lead to further crime at the premises such as burglary or further thefts because the criminal then becomes aware of the presence of other assets (targets) located at the premises which could bring financial reward. The outcome of such additional criminal activity can be both time consuming and costly to the business - e.g. replacing stolen goods that are essential to the operation of the business, repairs to business infrastructure, machinery and buildings and lost time resulting to either damage or loss of equipment. This may ultimately result in the closure of the business either on a temporary or permanent basis.  

Black market

Once the oil is stolen, the Biodiesel is often sold on the black market at a profit by organised gangs to assist or support other illegal activities.  This theft also has a knock-on effect to legitimate recycling operators who are fully qualified and experienced in handling and disposing of this type of fuel both safely and lawfully. Official operators also ensure that the handling, conversion to biodiesel and disposal of waste substances are compliant with the law ensuring that they do not impact on the environment via, for example, pollution of the waterways or local communities.

Though it may seem like an opportunity to take advantage of a cost saving exercise by buying this type of fuel, particularly in the current cost of living crisis we find ourselves in, it is important to be aware that  this fuel can damage modern diesel engines, clog up vital components such as fuel injectors, fuel pumps and emission control devices. Consequently, the cost of purchasing unregulated biodiesel can be significantly more in the long run. If you are offered the chance to buy this type of fuel for yourself or business vehicles, you are advised not to do so and report this to your local police force.

Improve the security of your business

The security of your business can be improved by taking a few simple measures:

1. Only ever use legitimate waste disposal companies

  • Check you are using a legitimate waste collection company and be wary of bogus collectors touting for their business. You can check the legitimacy of a waster carrier at DEFRA-Environment Agency - Register of Waste Carriers, Brokers & Dealers Webpage Link

  • Check the ID of collection staff and make sure they are legitimate before handing over your oil. The waste carrier should be a Registered Waste Carrier listed with the Environment Agency. This can be checked via the link above

  • Often collection companies provide dispatch notes in advance of the collection with a date and time, details of a named driver and the registration number of the collection vehicle

  • Train your staff to be vigilant and challenge suspicious people on the premises. Where applicable, and if it is safe to do so, record vehicle details - colour, manufacturer and registration - and notify your local police force

  • Consider contacting local business in your area who may be similarly targeted, vigilance and surveillance can be key to preventing many forms of crime. Look out for each other and be a good neighbour; talk with neighbouring businesses, share information and consider joining the local Pub Watch, Business Watch scheme or Business Crime Reduction Partnership (BCRP). These groups can be a good way of sharing and obtaining intelligence about the local area. Further information can be found at the National Business Crime Centre

2. Security measures

  • Ask your oil suppliers for locking barrels. Many cooking oil barrels have a securing ring around the top which can be padlocked to prevent siphoning. This frustrates and delays those intent on stealing the contents of the barrel

  • Consider installing CCTV cameras (these should be installed by registered engineers with either the SSAIB or NSI to cover your storage locations. Such an installation can have wider benefits for the security of your business. A  registered installer will also ensure that the system complies with the Surveillance Camera Code Of Practice Guidelines, where applicable, and is to a standard that will allow the images to be used for prosecution purposes - UK Gov-Biometrics & Surveillance Camera Commissioner

  • Introduce dusk till dawn security lighting to support your CCTV system and to create an opportunity where criminals may be seen, thus helping to deter thieves

  • Where possible, used oil barrels should be stored indoors if it is safe do so, or ensure that they are located in a position which is difficult to access for an opportunistic or more determined criminal

  • Consider introducing secure storage cages or similar, which prevent easy access and are certified to a security standard to resist criminal attack. Such standards include LPS1175, LPS2081, STS205 and STS 222 for example. SBD approved products can be found via the SBD Police Preferred Specification Product Category Search

  • For larger storage tanks, try to position these in locations which are difficult for unauthorised personnel to get to

  • Introduce measures to restrict casual access on foot or via a vehicle to waste fuel storage tanks and locations. This can be achieved with the introduction of bollards, barriers or a security perimeter fence, with lockable entrance and exit points to create a secure compound. SBD approved products can be found via the SBD Police Preferred Specification Product Category Search
  • Deter theft by introducing clear signage, displayed around the premises and perimeter, indicating that the location is monitored by alarms and CCTV
  • Regular monitoring of used cooking oil levels within the tanks or the number of barrels stored will indicate if a theft has occurred to allow the appropriate action to be taken to counter future offences

  • Fit a fuel tank alarm and monitoring system to notify you of an attack on fuel tanks. Remote electronic fuel level gauges will set off an audible or monitored alarm if the fuel level in the tank suddenly drops or falls below a defined level. Where fuel tanks are in remote locations, we recommend that they be housed in a secure alarmed steel container

  • On high-risk exposed sites, an additional detection system should be considered such as a Perimeter Intrusion Detection System (PIDS). SBD currently accredits a number of fencing manufacturers and installers who between them can provide fencing solutions for all situations and circumstances

  • If you are using an external shed or container make sure it’s secure with a SBD approved hasp and staple with a heavy duty padlock – for further information visit shed security

3. Further information

  • Further information on fuel storage security, particularly for larger fuel storage tanks and receptacles can be found at the SBD Fuel Theft Prevention Advice Webpage

  • Further advice on managing waste cooking oil can be found at UK Gov - Oil Storage Regulations & Safety Advice. This link also provides information on relevant departments and agencies if your business is outside of England and located within Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales.