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FOG 101: How to Properly Dispose of Cooking Fat, Oil and Grease
"What? Did someone say there's fog outside? It looks clear to me."
No, the acronym "FOG" stands for Fat, Oil, and Grease—cooking fat, in other words. In this article, we're going to explain ways of dealing with cooking fats safely and responsibly.
What you're about to read might cause you to re-examine some of your existing practices, though, so be prepared to find out some better alternatives. For instance, dumping your used cooking fat down the drain is definitely not the thing to do!
We'll discuss several alternative ways to dispose of grease, but we'll stress the most environmentally-friendly methods first and foremost.
What Not to Do With Cooking Fat, Oil, and Grease
Not only are fat, oil, and grease messy to clean, but they're also hard to dispose of. Our first thought might be to dispose of it down the drain like any other food waste—especially if our kitchen sinks have disposals.
Those of us without sink disposals can be inclined to toss the messy grease carelessly into the backyard to be absorbed by the soil (or perhaps to help melt the snow).
Wrong, wrong, wrong—on all counts! Here's why.
Pouring Grease Down a Drain (or Into a Toilet)
As it cools, grease starts to coagulate and stick to the side of the drain pipe. Over time, more cooking fat and debris attaches to it inside the drain. Before you know it, you'll have an intractable sink (or toilet) clog on your hands. You will need to call a Mississauga plumber for this.
Whatever you do, don't try to remove the clog using a drain-opening chemical, since that will just add a corrosive substance to the mess that's already there and at best provide a temporary “fix”. If it doesn't get rid of the clog, you might have to deal with damaged or weakened plumbing that will be much more costly than getting a professional drain cleaning in the first place!.
Throwing Grease Into the Yard
Allowing "nature to take its course" is a terrible habit and a poor excuse used by many of us. It's not like kitchen grease is toxic, right? Well, that depends on how you define "toxic." Cooking fat can be quite toxic to plants and wildlife.
There are responsible ways to dispose of grease and oil in your yard, but you shouldn't toss it all at once, at least not all in the same place.
What you don't want is for the grease to find its way into pipes and sewers—and clog them. You also don't want your used grease to find its way into aquatic ecosystems near you and cause damage—which can easily happen.
We'll discuss some appropriate ways to distribute grease in your yard responsibly (and sparingly) later in this article.
"And In the End, the Grease You Take...
...is equal to the grease you make (in the kitchen)." Or throw down the drain. Or pour in the yard. Or feed your pets (no, don't ever do that).
Talking about the reasons for our unhealthy diet is for a different article, though. Here, we're talking about what to do with grease once we've created it and consumed what it was used to prepare.
How to Dispose of Oil and Fat Somewhat Responsibly
What we'll discuss in this section aren't the worst ways to get rid of grease, oil, and fat. However, there are far better ways as well.
Put Grease in a Container and Toss It in the Trash
Wait until the grease has cooled a bit so you don't burn yourself, and then put it into a container—preferably one, like a milk carton, that will slowly decompose.
Try not to put it in glass or metal containers, as these materials are easy to recycle but would take eons to disintegrate in a landfill.
Use Old Paper to Absorb Grease, Then Throw It Away
If you use paper towels in your kitchen, start saving the used ones to absorb the grease before throwing it in the trash. That way, you won't need to use a container that could be recycled instead.
Paper towels are usually pretty dirty when they're thrown out, so they're not always suitable for recycling. They can still soak up grease, though.
Old newspapers are better for recycling as long as they aren't yellowed or dirty, but they can also be used to absorb grease before sending it to the landfill.
"An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound Less Grease"
The human body uses fat to store energy, insulate us from the elements, and protect our organs. Fats (lipids) also help with essential metabolic functions such as immune response, growth, and reproduction.
Fats are essential nutrients, but did you know that the body can't make fats on its own? Fats need to be integrated with what we eat—just not in a way that bathes the food while it's cooking.
Our collective taste for fried food is one reason why there's so much excess cooking fat in our environment.
Use Cooking Techniques That Don't Take a Lot of Grease
If you're cooking meat, try roasting or broiling instead of frying. Regular basting of roasting meat preserves the natural juices and flavour, at least as well as frying.
If you're making doughnuts, skip the deep fryer and use a lot less fat by baking them instead. There are some terrific recipes online!
Avoid Buying High-Fat Meat
Shop for lean cuts of meat. If they're tough, slow-cook them instead in a Crockpot or pressure cooker. You will appreciate the flavours these techniques bring out in the meat.
Use Fat Alternatives
Many recipes call for more fat than is needed. Cookies are notorious for this. If you're frying, though, use a light coating of oil and add water as necessary to keep food from drying or sticking to the pan.
Perhaps the best fat alternative of all is merely cutting back on its use. Yes, we need some fat in our diets. However, we get plenty of it from meats, oily fish, butter, nuts, avocados, and numerous other sources.
If You Can't Avoid Cooking With Fat, Recycle It
There are several ways to recycle grease. Why not give them a try? You'll be doing the environment a favour and maybe even helping the development of new fuels.
Region of Peel Treats Grease As Organics
The Region of Peel categorizes grease and fat from food as organic waste. This means you can put it in your green bin. Just make sure that the container (if using one) is also organic.
"Donate" Your Used Cooking Fat For Biofuel
Biofuels are fuel types composed of or made from renewable biological sources, unlike fossil fuels.
Ethanol and biodiesel are probably the best-known biofuels today, but the biofuel industry is still in its infancy. More innovations are always in process.
There's one rapidly developing fuel industry, biodiesel, that actually wants your grease! They'll pay for it too (though probably not for the quantities you collect at home).
Many eating establishments, such as diners and fast food places, sell or donate used fat from their deep fryers to licensed collectors.
The collectors, in turn, sell it to biodiesel manufacturers. Find out if you can add your old cooking grease to a restaurant's existing collection to be picked up by a "fat dealer."
Reuse Grease or Oil to Prepare Other Food
Bacon fat makes pea soup, baked beans, and other "heavy" dishes taste wonderful. It also makes some darned tasty cookies!
Using bacon fat in these ways would be environmentally responsible if only you and your dining companions weren't part of the environment we want to protect. So, eat these foods judiciously!
Within a reasonably short time-frame, though, oil from the deep fryer can be reused to pan-fry other foods. Just don't let it grow rancid!
Making Used Cooking Fat Safer and Tastier
Also, a 2019 study hypothesized that ginger is effective at removing free fatty acids (FFA) from cooking oil. Monitoring the FFA level is the simplest method to monitor hydrolytic rancidity in fatty foods. We can't wait to see where this research is headed!
Re-use Grease to Make Candles, Balms, and Soaps
If you're interested in both recycling and homemade crafts, why not try some recipes for using cooking fats to create useful non-food items for the home, including long-burning tallow candles, nutrient-rich skincare products, and good, old-fashioned soap.
Remember, our ancestors made these products routinely. Once you have some practice, you could turn your used cooking fat into homemade gifts to share with family and friends.
How Used Grease Can Fit Into Your Backyard Ecosystem
Here's how an ecosystem is explained to today's children and our future adults:
"An ecosystem includes all of the living things (plants, animals and organisms) in a given area, interacting with each other, and also with their non-living environments (weather, earth, sun, soil, climate, atmosphere)."
Your yard is an ecosystem all by itself because it's a product of your lifestyle. It's also integrated with your neighbourhood, though. You are the one responsible for its care—which means, among other things, being conscientious about what you put there.
Put Your Used Fat in Bird Feeders
If you enjoy seeing wildlife in your yard, especially in winter, put some out in a bird feeder. Since birds need fat to stay warm in the winter, they will be drawn to the feeder and might consume your entire supply. Keep the cats away, though!
Birds are part of your yard's ecosystem, and used kitchen grease can benefit them. There are other responsible ways to use your yard to get rid of grease as well.
Compost Your Kitchen Grease
There's some debate about whether or not you should compost organic grease and oil and, if it is indeed OK, what amounts are acceptable?
It seems you can compost these fats in small amounts at a time by adding them to your compost bin. Make sure that you don't neglect it there, though. With added grease, especially, it's important to turn and aerate the compost frequently.
The reason you should add only small amounts is that oil creates a water-resistant barrier and reduces air circulation, thus slowing the decomposition process. Grease also tends to attract unwanted animal and insect visitors.
New and Innovative Environmentally-Friendly Grease Disposal Products
Environmental preservation owes a lot to human ingenuity when it comes to things like the eternal problem of how to safely and responsibly dispose of cooking fat. In this section, we describe some recent inventions and innovations in grease control.
The Fat Trapper
This fat-disposal system is widely available online and at retail stores. It uses disposal foil bags lined with absorbent material to store accumulated kitchen grease until it's ready for disposal in the trash.
Wastequip Grease Container
Wastequip is a Charlotte, NC-based manufacturer of waste and recycling equipment. This product is an outdoor storage container with sizes ranging from 100 to 360 gallons. It features a "Grease Vault lid" meant to keep out curious and hungry wildlife.
A patent scan reveals several more inspiring and innovative devices that might be in the works as yet more ways to handle cooking fat.
Trim the Fat!
If you find used cooking fat just a little repulsive, you aren't alone. Although it is organic and a natural part of the environment, it needs to be handled with care so that it doesn't harm that same environment.
Not only can cooking fat wreak havoc on the water supply and sewage disposal systems, but it also threatens wildlife—including the aquatic species that eventually encounter it after you toss it onto the soil in your yard.
What's more, discarded cooking fat can clog the pipes in your home, your septic system if you have one, the municipal sewer system, and the natural waterways.
We should start a campaign to "pay the plumber for things other than grease clogs"!
Speaking of plumbers, we hope you'll inspect your sinks regularly for collected grease and cooking fat. Call our plumbing & drain cleaning experts today at (905) 817-0210. Our plumbers are ready to offer our services anytime—day or night—and on weekends. Just give us a call or contact us today!