When it comes to the environmental impact of cookware, it’s not just your choice of new kitchen items you need to think about. Old cookware can be hard, if not impossible, to recycle, meaning that it simply ends up in landfill, possibly leaching heavy metals and toxins into the soil and water supply.
Your best option is to send cookware that you no longer need but that is still usable to a thrift store, directly to a charity or shelter, or see if a friend or family members needs whatever you have to give away. This is what I did when I emigrated from the UK to Canada, with friends and family getting some fantastic cookware for free!
If you have cookware that is broken or otherwise unusable, however, it’s time to check with your local authority for advice on how best to dispose of unwanted items.
Depending on the type of cookware, you may be able to drop items off at a scrap metal recycling facility. Many recycling centers do not take Teflon coated pans, however, as the coating has to be removed before the metal can be recycled. (Another nail in the coffin for toxic non-stick cookware!)
Some recycling facilities only accept non-ferrous cookware. That means if it contains any iron, they won’t accept it. Test cookware with a magnet; if it’s magnetic, it contains iron. Even if they’re a little rusty, take old cast iron pots and pans to the thrift store. For the right person, these will be much appreciated as newer cast iron can be expensive and heavy to ship. A bit of lemon juice and a good amount of scrubbing, followed by a couple of rounds of seasoning can restore those pans to good working order. If you’re looking to replace old cast iron cookware, I recommend purchasing a cast iron skillet from Lodge (View Price on Walmart), which received a 5/5 Leaf Score.
Glass and ceramic cookware
Unfortunately, although glass is one of the healthier options for cookware, it’s very difficult to recycle. Broken glass cookware cannot be put in glass recycling along with jars and bottles. That’s because it has been treated to be more durable, which means it does not melt at the same temperature as ‘packaging’ glass. Pyrex and other glass cookware is considered a contaminant, therefore, as it would make the melted material unusable. At present, there is little option but to put broken glass cookware in the trash to go to a landfill.
That said, you might also consider repurposing some of your old cookware. For example, I’ve used broken ceramics as drainage in the bottom of large plant pots. And I know artists who have upcycled pieces of ceramic cookware and glass to create a mosaic or sculpture. Be careful, though, as ceramic edges are sharp!
Old saucepans and frying pans can also be used as flower pots or to catch rain water, or even as impromptu musical instruments, crow-scarers, or a dinner gong. Here are some more fun ideas on how to upcycle old cookware.