Recycling Mystery: Nonstick Pots & Pans

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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

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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

Make Your Pans Last Longer

Tips for Care

Although nonstick pans are designed to last for many years, you should be careful how you treat your cookware. If you are, it’s possible to extend it’s life and avoid the need for a recycling solution.

DuPont, the maker of Teflon cookware, suggests avoiding cleaning nonstick pans with rough sponges, using sharp utensils and heating the pans above 500 degrees. All of these things harm the nonstick coating and can leave your cookware unusable.

With any pots and pans, regardless of whether they have PTFE coating, it’s important to care for them properly. A little extra effort ahead of time will make all items in your kitchen last longer.

Reuse Damaged Pans

If you’re attached to your damaged nonstick pots and pans and don’t want to get rid of them, there are some unique ideas you can try to “repair” them. One suggestion is to take your pot or pan to a sand-blasting company and have them remove the PTFE coating for you. Once the coating is gone, the pan will function just like any other untreated metal pan. This process, however, will most likely cost you some money.


To make recycling easier in the future, choose cookware that you know will be easy to recycle in your area or select a company that will recycle your old pans for you, such as Calphalon, whose pans are made from 40% recycled aluminum.

Other cookware companies such as Ecolution offer eco-friendly pots and pans, as well as plenty of information about what to do with your cookware when it gets old.

Have other items in your kitchen you don’t know how to recycle? Check Out: 10 Things in Your Kitchen You Didn’t Know You Could Reuse or Recycle

Photo: Flickr/JPC24M