10/09/2014 01:57 EDT | Updated 12/09/2014 05:59 EST

Used cooking-oil theft rises as demand climbs for 'liquid gold'

Quebec provincial police arrested seven people in Montreal and Laval on Thursday, in a crackdown on used cooking-oil theft.  

In all, arrest warrants were issued for nine people, all suspected of operating an oil-theft ring in Mascouche, northeast of Montreal.  The accused face charges of theft and conspiracy to commit theft.

Quebec companies targeted

Upwards of $11 million in tax dollars is lost every year because of rampant used cooking-oil theft, according to Canada's oil-recycling industry.

And nearly a third of that value being pilfered from Quebec companies.

The oil-recycling company Sanimax told Radio-Canada’s investigative program Enquête the problem has become so widespread that at least 20 per cent of the used cooking oil it normally recuperates from clients is being stolen.

That’s 150 metric tonnes of cooking oil a week for Sanimax alone.

- WATCH: Radio-Canada's hidden camera catches cooking oil thieves (Part I)

- WATCH: Radio-Canada's hidden camera catches cooking oil thieves (Part II)

Enquête discovered many of the thieves in Quebec are employees of legitimate oil-recuperating businesses.

The problem is particularly pronounced in Quebec, where thieves steal $4 million of the national total of $11 million in used cooking oil.

Huiles Biocycle, an oil-recuperation business in Montreal North, said it didn’t know some of its employees were collecting used oil from the competition’s collection receptacles during the night.

It said it planned to fire the employees in question.

Liquid gold

Gone are the days when used cooking oil was considered as refuse.

Now it’s liquid gold — a relatively new source of revenue for restaurant owners.

The product is commonly used in cosmetic products and pet food. However, since the growth of biodiesel, the demand has exceeded the supply.

The value of used cooking oil today has tripled in recent years, fetching up to $800 a tonne.

“The people we’ve approached know they’re buying stolen merchandise, but they turn a blind eye by saying they need the volume,” said Sanimax sales director Pascal Demers.

Police don't see losses

In Canada, restaurant owners normally produce about 200 million kilograms of used cooking oil each year.

Thieves who steal oil are rarely punished because authorities don’t take the crime seriously, said Robert Geoffrey, president of the oil-recuperation company Distribution Katrina.

“The police don’t see the millions of dollars behind this. They also don’t see the losses,” Geoffrey said.

Large-scale recyclers have invested millions of dollars over the past few years to battle vandalism and to improve receptacle security, with little effect.

California passes anti-theft law

Used cooking oil theft is a serious problem outside of Canada, as well.

According to the American National Renderers Association, used cooking-oil theft deprives the U.S. treasury of $75 million in taxes each year.

On Aug. 25, California adopted a law to combat the phenomenon and to better protect the biodiesel industry.

Thieves face fines of up to $10,000, and the new laws give the police the authority to seize an oil-collecting vehicle and compel vehicle operators to get a permit. The permit needs to be displayed on the vehicle at all times.

The state also encourages residents to speak out and report any oil stealing on a special website set up for this kind of theft.