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The Green Life: Ask Mr. Green: Garbage Disposal or Compost Heap?

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August 02, 2013

Ask Mr. Green: Garbage Disposal or Compost Heap?

Mr. Green is Bob SchildgenHey Mr. Green,

As the Kitchen Manager (aka dishwasher) at our house I would like to know if would it be better environmentally to dispose of our non-compostable waste food in the garbage or the garbage disposal? —Ken, in Orangevale, California

Your local garbage officials insist that you keep anything with grease or oil out of the garbage disposal. This stuff should just go in the regular garbage. As for the rest, it’s better to compost everything else instead of sending it down the garbage disposal or putting it in the garbage. (A small amount of grease residue is okay in the compost.)

If you ever wind up with truly vast amounts of grease and oil, you might try to contact a rendering company, though they probably won’t collect from individual households. These outfits actually retrieve grease and oil from “grease traps” in restaurants, then clean or “render” the grease (and also bones) so this stuff can be reused in soap, pet food, etc. It's kind of cool that tons of restaurant grease don’t go to waste, though hardly a justification for scarfing down fast food.

Now if you’re interested in getting into serious home grease conservation, you could save all your fats and render your very own grease to use for cooking (a bit of rendered lipids won't kill you) or even for making soap. For instructions on rendering domestic fat, see Make magazine or similar sites. To venture into actual, old-fashioned soap making, turn to The Soap Factory. (My dear grandmother, being of Old World peasant stock, actually made her own soap, using lye, i.e., sodium hydroxide or caustic soda. But do handle lye with care. A cousin of mine on the other—very other—side of the family actually swallowed some of the leading lye brand, Lewis Lye, in rather desperate moment. Fortunately he lived to tell about the episode, albeit in somewhat subdued and ragged tones. Grandma's soap did seem fairly harsh for personal hygiene applications, but was quite acceptable for other purposes.)

To go truly primitive, you could use wood ashes instead of lye, as explained by The Soap Factory, though burning the wood to obtain the ashes might have a questionable environmental impact, depending on your local air quality and health of your timber resources.

To learn more about the venerable but virtually invisible rendering industry, visit the National Renderers Association, which was engaged in sustainable recycling long before such terms entered our vocabulary. Finally, speaking of fat, watch for my next blog, which will present thrilling calculation of how many gallons of additional fuel are required to haul around our chronically overweight population. Bob Schildgen


Got a question? Ask Mr. Green!


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