Written by Nicolette Schnettgoecke, BS, RDN and Mary Purdy, MS, RDN
When you are in the kitchen getting ready to cook a meal, the last thing you may be thinking about is how the cookware you’re using will impact your health and the health of the planet. You may consider which food products are the most sustainable, but if you’re looking to make even more of a “‘green’ difference, consider seeking out more sustainable or environmentally friendly cookware. While the below isn’t a comprehensive evaluation, it offers a few ideas for the earth-friendly curious!
How does cookware impact human health?
One common chemical called Polyfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), a group of chemicals used to make “fluoropolymer” coatings for non-stick kitchenware, have been used in consumer products since the 1940s. However, consuming food prepared in cookware products made with PFAS, also referred to as ‘forever chemicals’, can result in chemical accumulation in your body (for decades or longer) and, according to research, potentially pose an increased risk of infertility, developmental delays in children, and some cancers. PFAS have been found in the bloodstream of 99% of Americans not only from cookware but likely from additional exposure of PFAS containing microplastics, household products, polluted air, or contaminated food and drinking water. As a result, many consumers are avoiding cookware that contains PFAS and turning to environmentally-friendly cookware alternatives for human health concerns.
How does cookware impact the environment?
In addition to the harmful effects on the body, these non stick materials can have harmful effects on the environment. Researchers from the University of Toronto heated a variety fluoropolymers and observed that the materials degraded into several harmful pollutants. One of the byproducts found was “trigluoroacetate”, a compound which is toxic to plants. Other components such as fluorine and chlorine-rich carboxylic acids were also discovered and found to be absorbed by animal tissues, posing health concerns for all life. Additionally, when fluoropolymers are exposed to high temperatures, they produce a potent greenhouse gas known as fluorocarbon.
The good new is, there are plenty of environmentally friendly cookware options. Cast iron, stainless, steel, ceramic, and glass pans with water-based, silicon dioxide, or mineral-based coatings are all great eco-friendly options available.
What should one be looking for when buying sustainable kitchen products?
While purchasing cookware without toxic chemicals is ideal, you also have to consider the following:
- Was the product produced sustainably or ethically? While certain products may be non-toxic, they may still require large amounts of energy and natural resources to produce or be made in facilities that don’t support ethical working conditions. The brand, GreenPan promotes ethical practices by running on 30 percent solar energy and Caraway supports manufacturing partners where employees are safe, paid fairly, given benefits, and work regulated hours.That matters!
- Is it plastic free? Look for cookware made without plastic, choose silicon instead. While silicon is not perfect, it is food safe, heat resistance, and far more durable compared to plastic. Check out this silicon handled pot from Ecolution.
- Is it made with recycled materials? Certain brands such as ScanPan are made with recycled stainless steel and aluminum. Did you know that aluminum is one of the most easily recyclable materials? According to sources, recycled aluminum only requires around 5% of energy needed to make new aluminum, saving resources and the planet! Another great material to cook with is iron. Castiron pans are are made from iron and steel which makes then naturally non-toxic. ( If you are someone who has hemochromatosis – a tendency to store too much iron – it’s best to be mindful about your use of cast iron pans, especially when cooking with something acidic, like tomatoes, which can draw out the iron into the food.)
Check out these other eco-friendly options:
- Made In Cookware sells high-quality stainless steel sets with a mission to support a sustainable future.
- Stone Earth sets are excellent non-stick pans made without PFAS
Want more resources?
There are a number of folks out here who have already done the digging to find which products are living up these ideals. Check The 7 Best Nonstick Cookware Sets of 2023 or the article “Which Cookware Is Best for Your Health and the Environment?” to learn more about the best environmentally-friendly cookware for you and the environment.
Get ready, get set and get cookin’! Your belly and the earth offer their applause.
- Gorman J. Environment’s stuck with nonstick coatings. Science News. https://www.sciencenews.org/
article/environments-stuck- nonstick-coatings. Published August 8, 2019. Accessed February 2, 2023.
- Our Current Understanding of the Human Health and Environmental Risks of PFAS. EPA. https://www.epa.gov/pfas/our-
current-understanding-human- health-and-environmental- risks-pfas#:~:text=Exposure% 20to%20PFAS%20May%20be,a% 20variety%20of%20health% 20effects. Published March 16, 2022. Accessed February 2, 2023.
- Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/
health/topics/agents/pfc/ index.cfm. Published January 3, 2023. Accessed February 2, 2023.
- Wong, D.S., Lavoie, P. Aluminum: Recycling and Environmental Footprint. https://link.springer.com/
article/10.1007/s11837-019- 03656-9#citeas. Published July 15, 2019. Accessed February 3, 2023.