Date: 24 November
Cost of taking action: LOW
By our guest author Divya Hari in Singapore
Did you know that your choice of cookware can have an environmental impact?
Today’s action is to choose your cookware carefully – it can be more damaging than many of us realise.
Plastics are ubiquitous. From scented candles to conventional cleaning products and make up, air fresheners to plastic food storage containers, toxic forms of plastic could be lurking in our homes. We need to rethink many of the items we buy.
On the list of items that should be reconsidered is non-stick cookware.
Non-stick cookware seems to make our lives easier and convenient. Non-stick coating can repel water and oil and there is no need to scrub burnt, baked-on food. Pans also needs only very little oil or fat, making it potentially a healthier way to cook food.
However, most older nonstick pans (ones manufactured up until 2015) contain perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA which is now known to be a health concern and has been linked to a number of health conditions, including liver disease, thyroid disorders, hormone levels and being classified as possibly carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
In particular, non-stick cookware is not suitable for high temperature cooking. When heated to temperatures above 570°F (300°C) fluorine containing compounds can start to break down, burn off and release toxic fumes. Breathing these fumes can cause temporary, flu-like symptoms and can be hazardous to both humans and pets.
PFOA can stay in the environment and in the human body for long periods of time.
Microplastics from the breaking up of cooking surfaces over time enter our environment too, impacting on our ecosystems.
Are there green alternatives?
More recently, as an alternative to these PFOA coated cookware, “green” cookware is on the rise. However, these are yet another potential greenwashing minefield to navigate – just because something is “green” does not mean it is safe. Although “green” cookware surfaces may be free of PFOA, they could still contain plastics or may include metals which also cause a number of medical problems.
Some non-stick cookware is manufactured using nanotechnology; nanoparticles from these coatings can leach into food especially when cooking at high temperatures or from scratches that result simply due to regular wear and tear.
Despite following the manufacturers’ guidelines in caring for such non-stick cookware, they are typically not as durable and do not last as long as may be implied; they need to be replaced every few years since the non-stick lining can scratch and chip off into food or into the environment via our waterways.
In general, it is best to avoid non-stick cookware.
Remember that with their vested interests, manufacturers may not always be transparent about what is in their coatings. Also, it may take years or even decades for research to assess the longer term safety of any new coating and return any meaningful or conclusive health information.
Another thing to avoid are kitchen utensils made from plastic – often black plastic.
These are an unnecessary use of plastic and may even be harmful to health in the long term, given the inevitable release of microplastics and nanoplastics during cooking. Also, though black plastics may be aesthetically pleasing, optical sorters in recycling facilities do not detect them so they never get recycled and almost always end up in landfills, contaminating the environment further.
Please, instead of non-stick, use proven cookware made from cast iron*, stainless steel, ceramics, Perspex and glass. These can withstand temperatures way above that of non stick cookware and do not release toxins while cooking or leach harmful chemicals into food.
Utensils are often manufactured from wood as well – wooden spatulas and wooden spoons are completely natural and biodegradable once eventually disposed of.
Avoid the unnecessary use of plastics in your kitchen. Sometimes, traditional remains best!
This article has been contributed by Divya Hari in Singapore
Follow Divya on Twitter at @IvyKriss
( * Editors note, people affected by Heamochromatosis (iron overload) may be advised to avoid cast iron cookware)