By MICHAEL GARTLAND/ Last Updated: 8:05 AM, June 10, 2012
City thieves are getting slipperier.
They’ve taken to ripping off the rancid cooking oil left at the curb by restaurants — as the list of strange “commodities” sought by sticky-fingered opportunists grows.
In a sputtering economy, the price of resale goods like cardboard, scrap metal, old appliances and even grease has spiked — and criminals have taken notice.
Used cooking oil cost next to nothing four years ago. Now it goes for 38 cents a pound. Cardboard and other paper goods went for about 1 cent a pound two years ago. Now it costs 6 cents.
“It’s really crazy out here with this grease,” said Eddie, a truck driver who picks up used oil in Brooklyn. “I went to one of my stops, and I actually saw a guy pumping grease out with a vacuum cleaner.”
Old refrigerators, washers and dryers might be more of a hassle to lift, but snatching them has also become increasingly common, according to Sanitation Department officials.
“When they stay out a day, people steal them,” said agency spokesman Vito Turso. And it’s illegal because, technically, the city owns recyclables once they’re put on the curb.
Cooking oil is typically left in drums or secure plastic containers outside restaurants, which are required by law to contract with a licensed carting company for disposal. The carter sells the grease to be recycled as biofuel, used in diesel engines.
As fuel prices surge, so do thefts by a new breed of oil-robber barons.
“We’ve experienced many break-ins since the first of the year,” said Edward Gunderson, president of M&E Soap, which picks up food oil in Brooklyn and Staten Island. “They can walk out with $200, $300 or $500 worth of material.”
Gunderson estimates he has lost 5 to 10 percent of his business in the past year because of theft.
Some of the thieves are rival companies, and others are random thieves.
“It’s an easy way to make a buck,” Gunderson said.
So are cardboard, copper piping, wire and other scrap metal.
Due to demand for paper in China, the price of used cardboard and paper has also ballooned. And with fewer Americans buying new appliances, the old ones are less likely to be tossed, kicking up demand.
Many people who steal cardboard are organized, according to Nick DiVittorio, who works for D&N Services, an Astoria, Queens-based carter.
“It’s worth money, and people are hurting, so they want to steal,” he said. “It’s between $1 million and $2 million a month that we’re losing.”
It’s also easier to justify stealing from a faceless company or city, as opposed to an individual, said John Jay College of Criminal Justice Professor Maki Haberfeld.
And New York City is certainly feeling that.
“We lost $1.6 million last year because of theft of the paper products,” Turso said.
Manhole covers might be the toughest commodity to boost and resell.
Andrew Modica was charged last month with stealing 14 covers to fuel his drug habit.
Mike Powers, owner of TNT Scrap Metal in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, said he would call the cops if someone tried to hawk him a sewer cap.
“We worked really hard to get a good business,” Powers said. “We’re not going to give that for a few dollars from stolen manhole covers.”
What thieves are stealing & resale price per pound
cooking grease 38 cents
manhole covers 15 cents
wrought-iron gates 12 cents
cardboard 6 cents
scrap metal (refrigerators, washers, dryers) 10 cents
At any rate, be that as it may -
yours truly remains -
Very Truly Yours,