Making a Candle Out of Lard: Experiments in Waste Reduction

| 3/18/2019 10:18:00 AM

Lighting the lard candle! 

Photo by Justin Chamberlin.

Like many homesteaders, I’m fascinated with the idea of a zero-waste economy. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation defines a circular economy in part as one where waste is written right out of the equation—no more landfills, no need for consumer outrage at big food chains’ use of plastic straws. Instead, every item would be designed with its full lifespan in mind—not just one initial use, but the art, building materials, or fertilizer the object would become when that was done. We’re a long way from that point now, but people like you and me can still step out of the cycle of waste in small ways that add up.

One way I experimented with minimizing my waste footprint recently was by using leftover pork drippings to make a candle. It always makes me sad to throw fat away. Although sometimes my family saves it for cooking fat or stirs it into a sauce, fat that has marinated with strong flavors can confuse the flavor of a future dish if you cook meat in it, and some dishes just don’t require a sauce. The recipe my family and I had just made, carnitas heavily flavored with onion and orange, struck out on both counts. So we got creative.

First, we strained the liquid fat that had dripped off the meat through a paper towel to remove fragments of burnt meat. We poured our newly purified liquid fat into the paper cup we were using as our candle holder. For a wick, we used a spare length of string, but string doesn’t stand up on its own, and no one had time to stand around holding it while the fat hardened. Our solution: an ingenious machine made of chopsticks. We crossed two chopsticks in an X over the cup and hung the string over one of them. Then we stuck the whole thing in the fridge.

Waiting to be refrigerated.

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