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Recycle or reuse old pots and pans

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Part of choosing eco-friendly cookware means disposing of it properly when you no longer want it. Those pots and pans that are still in good shape can be donated to secondhand shops or charities. But if you’ve cooked one too many Mulligatawny stews in your Dutch oven and it’s no longer usable, it’s time to recycle.

How to recycle or reuse old pots and pans

Check with your recycler first as many curbside-recycling programs will point you to a scrap metal recycler instead. In most cases, cookware will need to be recycled much like recycling an old appliance. Or, if you’re feeling creative, you might try these reuse ideas:

  • Use old cookware for camping where primitive cooking conditions would otherwise ruin your good cookware. Or remove handles from smaller pots and use them as dishes.
  • Remove the handle and use them as water bowls for pets.
  • Save them for messy craft jobs, such as melting wax or soap.
  • Find a use for them in the garage, such as cleaning car parts.
  • Turn old pots into planters.
  • Give old pots, pans, and lids to a toddler who will know how to make music with them.
  • Do you have a woodstove? Fill an old pot with water and place it on the stove to add humidity to the dry winter air.

Recycling or reusing old cookware helps you go green because...

  • It cuts down on the waste you send to landfills.
  • It prevents new materials from being extracted (such as plastics and other metals) for use in products you’d otherwise buy new.

All the common metals used to manufacture pots and pans are mined from the earth and are nonrenewable resources. Metal cookware is by no means the biggest culprit when it comes to mine-waste problems. However, taken together, the extraction and processing of all metals creates between 1 and 2 billion tons of mine waste annually, and has polluted more than 3,400 miles of streams and more than 440,000 acres of land.[1] In 2004, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ranked the metal mining industry as the nation's worst toxic polluter.[2]

Reusing old cookware to prevent them from becoming garbage is one of the most sustainable approaches to dealing with old cookware. Reusing items is more sustainable than recycling them or otherwise disposing of them, since the items do not require energy or other resources to collect, transport, sort, and either process into their constituent recyclable components, incinerate, or sequester in a landfill. Reusing items has the added indirect environmental benefit of conserving the energy and other resources necessary to manufacture a new product.

Recycling is the next best option, and definitely a more sustainable way of dealing with solid waste than incineration or putting it in a landfill. Recycling saves energy and resources required to create new materials, and helps to minimize harmful practices like strip mining. For example, recycling aluminum instead of mining and processing virgin ore results in energy savings of up to 95 percent and recycling steel reduces energy consumption by 60 percent.[3] And, recycling keeps waste out of landfills. In 2006, recycling, including composting, resulted in diverting 82 million tons of material away from landfills and incinerators, up from 34 million tons in 1990.[4]