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Best Cookware for You and the Planet

16-Jan-2019

 

 

There is SO much misinformation and advertising today that it can be difficult to find the items that truly align with what you want. Below are the characteristics to generally look for when buying safe and eco-friendly cooking tools.

General Guidelines: With all cooking tools (and most products in general), the higher quality items use higher quality materials, have a longer lifespan, and thus cost more. My advice is to think about the cost in terms of an investment over the lifespan of the product. For example, a $60 pan from a brand with a product lifetime warranty should last 15+ years while a similar style $20 pan has a thinner coating that wears out after 5 years. They have the same per year cost, but you will avoid buying multiple pans, and reduce your footprint, by investing in the more expensive pan. This thinking applies to all purchasing and is a great way to reduce your waste and impact over time.

Pots & Pans: There are several brands on the market today that use ceramic-based or enamel coating. These surfaces are non-stick without containing petroleum-based teflon and the coating prevents metals from the main body of the pan from coming in contact with your food. Look for companies that use recycled steel in their handles and recycled aluminum for the body of the pots and pans. If you are great at or do research on keeping a seasoned pan, cast iron pans will last a lifetime! For a lower environmental impact, you can bring old cast iron pans back to life by cleaning and re-seasoning. There are also a few companies that have made completely ceramic pots and skillets that do not contain any metal and have a very low environmental or health impact. With any of these products, they need to be cared for properly to avoid scratching the coating. Prolonging the life of your pots and pans is best for the planet, as you can avoid buying a new one!

Baking: For baking, ceramic baking dishes have the lowest environmental footprint and glazes do not release toxins (as long as the dish is heat safe). You can even find several options for stoneware baking trays, made of unglazed ceramic, that can serve the same role as metal sheet pans in your kitchen. Glass is second for the environment, with no health concerns but an energy intensive production process involving melting silicon dioxide (quartz sand) at incredibly high temperatures. Metal baking dishes are typically made from stainless steel or aluminum, which can be new or recycled metal. I am not an expert on the topic but some studies show that aluminum may be harmful and accumulates over time. With that, avoid using single-use aluminum baking dishes and invest in a silicone baking mat instead of aluminum foil. Aluminum becomes mobile in the presence of acids, so do not cook acidic recipes, like tomato sauces, in aluminum. 

Cooking Utensils: Silicone, wood, or plastic? Wood is by far the best for the planet and your health as it is organic. With proper care, wood utensils will last a very long time. Wood swells and can crack if submerged in water, so hand-wash and periodically oil wooden utensils. Silicone, in very simplified terms, is a synthetic polymer made from silicon (silica aka quartz sand) and hydrocarbons (petroleum). The end product is heat resistant, has a very long lifetime (compared with plastics that degrade and release toxins), and is relatively low in toxins as it is more inert than plastic. Plastic utensils, like spoons and spatulas rated for use on non-stick pans, are produced from environmentally harmful hydrocarbons and do not have a long life before they begin breaking or shedding plastic. More and more research is emerging on the health impacts of plastics so look for heat-resistant, high quality products if you choose plastic.
 
I hope that these tips are helpful to anyone looking to make their kitchen more healthful and sustainable! I encourage everyone to do more research and make the choices that are right for your goals, budget, and the planet!

 

Check out the following resources for more information on the cookware discussed in this post: