By Kathryn Sukalich on Feb 7, 2013

Recycling Mystery: Nonstick Pots & Pans

Photo: Flickr/JPC24M[/caption]

You might be someone who cooks with a nonstick pan everyday, but have you ever considered what you should do with your pan once it's no longer suitable for cooking?

A quick internet search reveals there's a lot of confusion surrounding whether nonstick pans can be recycled. Some people say no one will recycle them because of the coating. Some suggest there might be ways to mail the pans in for recycling, while others don't see why your curbside recycling program wouldn't accept them, since they are metal, after all. Others are afraid to donate nonstick pans because the pans might be harmful to pet or human health, a topic surrounded by a fair amount of discussion. So, to demystify this issue, we'll provide some clarification about what exactly a nonstick pan is made of and how you can determine how to recycle it.

What Makes a Nonstick Pan Not Sticky?

Nonstick pans, which you may know by the brand name Teflon (made by DuPont), are most often made of aluminum. Some are also made of stainless steel. To keep food from sticking to these metals, manufacturers add a layer of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), which is a compound with a low coefficient of friction, meaning other objects will easily slide by it. This coating can have multiple layers to ensure the nonstick surface is durable.

While this nonstick coating makes cooking easier, if it gets scratched or begins to flake, it's time to find a replacement pan. Before the pan's metal can be recycled, however, the coating must be removed. Finding a recycler willing to do this is by no means impossible, but you'll need to know where to look.

How To Recycle Nonstick Pans

Option 1: Check Your Curbside Program

Some curbside recycling programs do accept nonstick pans and will handle the removal of the PTFE. One town in North Carolina, for example, will accept all pans, regardless of whether they're coated with PTFE. Other cities will accept only uncoated cookware. To determine whether these options are available in your area, search Earth911's Recycling Directory. You'll want to look for whether your local program accepts nonferrous scrap metal (which includes aluminum, copper and stainless steel). If so, give your recycler a call and ask about whether nonstick pans are allowed in the bin.

Option 2: Find a Scrap Yard

You may find your local curbside program doesn't collect unusual materials like pots and pans, but don't fret. Most scrap yards that accept metal will be happy to take your old nonstick pans, which they will recycle along with other scrap metal.

"The scrap yards will usually separate these pans into the proper pile of aluminum scrap," Virginia Buechel, Public Relations Director for iScrap App, a search tool for scrap yards, told Earth911. In the case of aluminum pans, they will be put with what's called "sheet aluminum" or "light aluminum," which is sturdier than the aluminum used in cans, Buechel explained.

"From there [...] they will be melted down and that special non-stick surface will separate properly from the true aluminum material," she said.

To search for a scrap yard in your area, visit iScrap App or take a look at Earth911's Recycling Directory.

Option 3: Seek Out a Mail-In Program

Another alternative if other options fail is to seek out a mail-back program for PTFE-coated pans. An example of one such program is Calphalon ReNew. If you buy new pots and pans from Calphalon, a manufacturer of many varieties of cookware, you can return your old nonstick pots and pans to them in the box your new purchases come in. Any brand of cookware is accepted by the program and the shipping is covered by the company, who will take care of getting the pans to a recycling center.

Related: Stay Green in 2013: Sustainability in the Kitchen

Continue Reading: Make Your Pans Last Longer

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