There are numerous reasons to dispose of old cookware. You may have upgraded to a new model, the cooking surface may have eroded over time, or perhaps you are merging kitchen supplies with a new roommate or partner. For some items, recycling your old cookware is an option, but there are a few variables to consider first.
Can Your Cookware Be Reused?
If you need to dispose of pots and pans, the first option to consider is reuse. Sites like Craigslist and Freecycle are good options for finding your cookware a new home, as are secondhand stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army. A few scratches or dings may matter to you, but that doesn’t make your pots and pans unusable.
Where Can You Recycle Your Cookware?
For pots and pans that have seen better days, recycling is an option, but likely not your curbside bin. Unless your curbside recycling program accepts scrap metal (only about 5% of the curbside programs in Earth911’s recycling directory fit this description), recycling will take a little more effort.
Most cookware is going to have some portion of metal, and for recycling purposes, you’ll want to know whether it is ferrous or nonferrous metal. Your pots and pans are most likely nonferrous metal, made from aluminum, copper, or stainless steel. If they attract a magnet, though, they are ferrous metal. This matters because some recyclers only accept either ferrous or nonferrous metal.
If you have nonstick cookware that’s coated with polytetrafluoroethylene (or PTFE — what you may know by the DuPont brand name Teflon), recycling options are limited. The coating needs to be removed before the pan can be recycled. Once you’ve found a scrap metal recycling near you, call them to ask if they accept Teflon-coated pans.
What About Non-Metal Cookware?
Some cookware will have no metal component, such as ceramic bowls or Pyrex baking dishes. Don’t put these items in your curbside bin. They cannot be recycled with your glass containers, and putting them in the bin will contaminate your recyclable items.
Pyrex is a type of treated glass that will not melt at the same temperature as glass bottles and jars during the recycling process. If mixed with container glass, it would make the resulting material unusable. Unfortunately, there are few recycling options at this time for non-container glass.
Can You Recycle Cooking Utensils?
Just like cookware, if the items are still usable, see if you can find them a new home. If they’re broken or otherwise unusable, responsible disposal depends on the material:
- Wood: You can likely cut, break, or saw your old wooden spoons into small pieces for composting — be sure to remove any plastic pieces first.
- Metal: These items offer the same reuse and recycling options as metal cookware.
- Plastic: Reuse is your best option for plastic utensils as recycling is problematic. For starters, you’re unlikely to know what type of resin they are made of, which is the first step to determine the recyclability of plastics. Check with your local recycling program; it’s likely you cannot put them in your curbside bin and will need to just put these items in the trash.
Originally published on October 11, 2010, this article was updated in January 2021.