By Ann Rubin
St. Louis (KSDK) - Two brothers are facing charges for stealing used cooking grease from a local Chinese restaurant.
Authorities say this is a much bigger problem than you might think.
Experts say the grease sells for about five times what it did a decade ago.
And now authorities are seeing thieves trying to take advantage of that to make some extra cash at the expense of legitimate businesses who pay to recycle it.
At the Parma Grill and Tap on Jefferson, their focus is on feeding their customers. They plan on adding microbrews after the first of the year. But right now, they're handcrafting Italian food.
Owner Brian Kramer, formerly of the Arena Club, said, "Everything is made here on site every day."
What they don't want to worry about is what happens to the by-product of all that cooking, the grease.
And so they, like most restaurants, have a company who comes, picks it up from a dumpster, and recycles it.
"At least you know it's getting recycled and it's not messing up your sewer," said Kramer.
The trouble is that thieves have been targeting grease bins in the area.
In fact, the St. Louis Circuit Attorney just announced charges against two men, Ryan and Gary Vaughn. They apparently admitted to stealing the grease from a nearby Chinese restaurant with the intent to re-sell it.
The restaurant owners say they were shocked by the theft. They knew they had hired someone to recycle their grease, what they didn't know was that someone was beating the company to the job.
Industry experts say the grease has value as a feed additive and as a bio-fuel. He estimates the industry loses as much as $40 million dollars through theft each year.
A grease recycler we talked to says it's a growing problem.
"In the last few months it's just an organized effort and they're literally stealing thousands of pounds of grease a day from the St. Louis area," said John Kostelac of Kostelac Grease Service in Belleville .
The St. Louis Circuit Attorney worries that used grease theft may soon become as common and costly here as copper theft.
Grease recyclers say something needs to be done before the problem gets worse.
"If you sell copper in the City of St. Louis now, don't they ask for an ID? There's nothing like that in the grease business," said Kostelac.
At the Parma Grill, they take no chances.
They've got cameras keeping an eye on everything.
"You don't want anybody on your property at any time taking anything," said Kramer. "It's an invasion."