Non-stick cookware is often a choice of convenience more so than sustainability, but there are a handful of brands doing things the right way.
I’ve described elsewhere in this series of articles on cookware how most non-stick cookware is coated with toxic chemicals and have no place in the kitchen. Much of the concern about non-stick cookware is focused on chemicals known as PTFE and PFOA.
Given those concerns, several companies have developed non-stick coatings for cookware that they claim are safe and non-toxic – but are they?
What are green non-stick coatings made of?
Newer non-stick coatings are often made with naturally occurring elements such as silicon and oxygen, rather than PTFE and PFOA. It is important to check labels, though, instead of going with marketing hype.
The precise nature of the coatings is typically proprietary and writing to manufacturers often reveals some dirty little secrets of non-stick cookware. For example, there are some product marketed as PFOA-free but which aren’t PTFE-free; the coating is still PTFE, just applied with a water-based solvent instead of PFOA.
Ecolution, for instance, have a bakeware range that uses their proprietary Free + Clear™ surface coating made without BPA, PFOA, and PTFE. But they also have a cookware range that uses PFOA-free Hydrolon™ non-stick coating, although this coating appears to still be based on PTFE. For anyone with a pet bird in the house, getting these confused could be deadly.
The ‘good’ green non-stick cookware
Cuisinart Ceramica is one example of a ceramic-based green non-stick coating, first used in the company’s Green Gourmet line. The coating does not contain PTFE or PFOA and was introduced in 2008. The Belgian cookware manufacturer Beka has also come out with its own Bekadur Ceramica coating and product line that appears to be safe, non-toxic, and eco-friendly.
In general, non-stick coatings based on tried and tested ceramic materials seem like a good option. However, not all new ‘green’ non-stick coatings are tried and tested.
One of the newer green non-stick cookware ranges comes from GreenPan. They released a product line in the U.S. in 2007 featuring Thermolon, a ceramic non-stick coating marketed as safe and non-toxic. It is mostly comprised of silicon and oxygen, with some pigments and other food-safe ingredients and was one of my top picks for this type of cookware, until recently.
Well, a class action lawsuit alleges that Greenpan engages in misleading marketing practices by claiming that Thermolon is non-toxic. To back up that allegation, the plaintiff cites a number of chemicals listed in the patent for Thermolon, including silane, aluminum oxide, tetraethoxysilane, methyltrimethoxysilane, and potassium titanate. These chemicals, as used in the coatings for Greenpan products have not been assessed for safety but are known for adverse health effects when used in other applications. As such, Greenpan might be one to avoid for now, and we’ll keep an eye on this lawsuit until it is resolved either way. See more about our take on GreenPan here.
What else to watch out for
Some newer coatings appear to make use of nanotechnology to create a smooth, non-porous, non-stick coating. Preliminary studies suggest that nanoparticles from these coatings can leach into food, especially when cookware is used at high temperatures and with repeated use as the surface is scratched or otherwise degrades (R).
NP2 is another type of ‘green’ non-stick coating developed in recent years. The Tramontina Eco-friendly Cookware line uses NP² non-stick technology, which is silicon-based and suitable for use up to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C). NP2 was designed by AkzoNobel as a PTFE-free, eco-friendly, polymer based, silicon hybrid non-stick coating in 2008. Despite having been around for more than a decade, there is no publicly available research on the health and safety of this polymer, nor any clear description of its exact composition. It also concerns me that the temperature range for this product is quite low (lower than you’d need to bake a cake, for instance), and silicon cookware has been found to leach chemicals when heated above 150 degrees Celsius.
It may well be that these newer non-stick coatings are indeed as eco-friendly, safe, and non-toxic as their manufacturers claim. The reality is, though, that we just don’t have any good, independent, scientific research to back up these claims. As such, it seems smart to stick to tried and tested cookware where any non-stick coating comes from natural seasoning or is ceramic in nature.
So, when looking for green non-stick cookware, keep in mind that while a product may be marketed as Teflon-free or PFOA-free, safe, non-toxic, and eco-friendly, but that does not mean it is PTFE-free, nor free from other possible toxins or environmental concerns. Indeed, a company that markets a product in this way without also making other reasonable, provable claims over safety or environmentally friendly manufacturing practices might be considered ‘greenwashing’. Even Teflon has been made without PFOA since 2013, but it certainly doesn’t belong in my kitchen.