If you’ve ever fried up a batch of bacon at home, you’re probably familiar with the unique combination of fascination and repulsion that results from the puddles of grease that remain. After cooking, the average supermarket bacon pack yields ½ to 2/3 a cup of fat. And while your instinct might be to dump that slick stuff down the drain (out of sight, out of mind, right?), this rookie mistake not only gums up your household plumbing but can cause costly blockages and build-up in city sewer systems. That’s why one municipal sewage department in Eastern Canada released a video last month entitled How to Bacon Responsibly. The video, released by Halifax Water, aims to educate viewers on what happens to cooking grease once it goes down the drain in an attempt to prevent these blockages from happening in the first place.
Bacon grease, along with the fats and oils in many food ingredients, are known as FOG in the wastewater world and they’ve become the scourge of these departments. When FOG hits water in your pipes, what was once a hot liquid congeals into a sticky white blob. FOG builds up in your pipes and can make its way into the sewer system, collecting more FOG from other households and eventually forming "fatbergs."
Anything from meat grease to cooking oils, shortening, butter, sauces and salad dressings contributes to nasty fatberg formation. Do note that household garbage disposals won’t help here either—they just grind up the grease into smaller pieces, eventually to congeal back into a fatty mess further down your pipes.
“When not disposed of properly, FOG builds up in the sewer system constricting flow, which can cause sewer back-ups into homes and overflow discharges onto streets,” the NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) states unceremoniously on their website.
You might want to put your BLT away for this part. FOG-induced blockages can result in the overflow of raw sewage into nearby streams and lakes, or even into your own home, lawn or neighborhood, causing health issues, affecting drinking water and harming the environment. In order to clear up the clog, water service teams like Halifax Water use high-pressure sprayers to break up FOG buildup floating in pumping stations. Then, a vacuum truck suctions up the fatberg pieces for proper disposal. It’s not a pretty sight.
According to the New York Times, clearing grease backups cost the city $4.65 million in 2013. No amount of sewer and plumbing upgrades can prevent these backups from happening at the municipal level. While the city requires grease and fat-generating businesses to use interceptor systems that prevent FOG from going down the drain (fines are up to $10,000 a day for improper use, maintenance or operations), departments like the NYC DEP rely on homeowners to "bacon responsibly."
Here’s how to do it: instead of dumping bacon grease and other fats and oils down the drain, pour the grease into a foil-lined cup or bowl and put it in the fridge or freezer to cool. From there, you can dispose of the solid, fatty puck into your regular garbage or green bin. Grease that remains on the pan or your dinner plate should be wiped off with a paper towel and tossed in the green bin as well.
If you’ve got larger amounts of oil and grease (think multiple deep fryers’ worth – two gallons or more), you should drop it off at a household hazardous waste depot. Avoid home compost piles, however, since backyard food scrap heaps don’t get hot enough to break down the grease, causing rot and a funky aroma that will attract animals and rodents.
But if you’re truly a crafty cook, you’ll look at bacon grease not as waste but as the powerful flavor enhancer that it is. Bake up bacon fat gingersnaps with a smoky and salty character, add richness and a moreish quality to your average bowl of popcorn and jazz up sandwiches with a smearing of baconnaise. Pretty much anything that needs a bit of grease to fry or roast can benefit from the bacon treatment.