Pan filled with used cooking oil

My mother-in-law once told me about how she saved her used cooking fats during World War II for the war effort — they used it to make explosives. I wasn’t around then, but I do remember Grandma saved her cooking oil, particularly during the holidays when she did a lot of deep-frying for zeppoli and struffoli. After she finished a batch, she filtered the cooled oil through an old dishtowel into a coffee can. She usually reused the oil from the can to deep-fry fish for our holiday meal.

But Grandma didn’t always cook with a lot of oil. If she used only a little, she would pour the used oil into her milk carton by the sink to discard later. She did this so it wouldn’t soak through the paper garbage sack. She never poured cooking oil or grease down the drain because she didn’t want clogged drains. Keeping the drains clear was a serious matter to Grandma.

Mom didn’t use as much oil as Grandma, so she simply poured cooled excess oil into the plastic bag of kitchen garbage. If a bit of oil got down the drain when she washed a pan, one of Mom’s tricks was to “wash the drain” with a squirt of dish detergent before rinsing it out with water. I remember her using water left over from boiling pasta for this purpose. I still use this old trick today.

Like Mom, I don’t use much oil for cooking — just some olive oil on my salads, to sauté vegetables, or to make a stir fry. So I never have much oil left over to dispose of. But when I do, it poses a problem for me.

I won’t put cooking oil or grease in the compost pile; it hinders the composting process and attracts pests. And although cooking oil can be recycled, there are no organizations near me that accept it. So my choice for disposal, like Mom, is to put small amounts of it in the kitchen garbage. I scrape my bowls and pans before washing them so the oil won’t go down the drain and create fatbergs.

Until I find a facility nearby that recycles cooking oil, this is the most sustainable solution for me.

By Joanna Lacey

Joanna Lacey lives in New York and has collected thousands of ideas from the frugal habits of her mother and grandmother. You can find her on Facebook at Joanna the Green Maven.