Even though cookware lasts for a very long time when it’s properly cared for, it does wear out eventually. Once cookware has reached the end of its working life, it’s time to consider the safest, easiest ways to dispose of it. Not all food-safe materials are created equal, and some may pose more of an environmental challenge than others.
More and more evidence is coming out that Teflon can do some serious damage to people’s health, and the toxic byproducts from its manufacture (like endocrine-disrupting perﬂuorinates) can end up released into the environment. Recycling aluminum reduces energy consumption by about 95% versus mining for virgin aluminum ore, and about two thirds of all steel made in the U.S. is made from ferrous metal scraps. With all that in mind, why let cookware sit in a landfill if it doesn’t have to?
Before you give your used pots and pans the old heave-ho, however, consider why you’re disposing of them– are they completely worn out, damaged beyond repair, or just no longer working as well as they used to? If it’s the latter, consider donating them or giving them away to someone in need. As long as they can still be used safely, it won’t matter if they are warped, have become stained, or don’t heat as evenly as they used to. However, if you do a buy new set of cookware it would be better to buy a quality cookware that last longer and is made of better materials than cheaper options.
Next, consider recycling your non-coated metal cookware. As long as your pots and pans are iron, copper, stainless steel, or aluminum, you should be able to find a recycling plant or scrap metal dealer willing to take them off your hands. Beware of coated cookware, however– some places won’t accept pots and pans covered in materials like Teflon or enamel, but intrepid recyclers may be able to find a sandblasting service that can remove the coatings for them. Bits and pieces like resin knobs and handles may need to come off, too, as they generally can’t be recycled.
Contact the manufacturer of your cookware to see if they have an in-house recycling program. Some manufacturers allow people to send in their used cookware for recycling when they upgrade to new pieces, which helps make disposing of used cookware much easier.
If you don’t have any luck finding a means of recycling your metal cookware, or you’re dealing with Pyrex, resin, or other materials that aren’t recyclable, repurposing it around your home might be an option. Old pots, pans, and bowls can be re-used for crafting, gardening, or even beauty supplies, and shards from broken earthenware crocks are invaluable for providing drainage for potted plants. If you don’t have any use for repurposed cookware, consider donating your old pieces to an artist or art school that might be able to use them.
Lastly, wooden and bamboo tools (like bowls, spoons, or tongs) are generally biodegradable. That means that they can be safely mulched and used in the garden, or added to a compost pile and treated like yard waste.
Disposing of cookware might be a challenge, but one thing can make it much easier– choosing to buy environmentally friendly products from the get-go. Really good non-stick cookware items like seasoned cast iron and ceramic powder coatings on recycled aluminum are just as convenient and easy to use as cookware made from conventional materials, but much healthier, safer, and easier to dispose of cleanly.