How To Find Eco-Friendly Cookware + The Best Options Of 2023
While pots and pans don't often make it onto the list of eco-friendly kitchen swaps, some are certainly easier on the planet than others. Here's what to look for in a sustainable pan, and seven of our favorite ones to cook with right now:
What to look for in an eco-friendly pan:
Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs)1 are a group of thousands of synthetic compounds. Some of them, like PFOA, PFOS, and PTFE can be used to give pans a non-stick finish. They've been deemed dangerous to human health2, especially when heated to high temperatures.
And since this class of chemicals is designed to resist water, oil, and the like, they can stick around in the environment for a long, long time. (High levels of them have been found in drinking water supplies across the U.S.)
Some PFAs have been banned in cookware for over five years, so they're no longer as much of a concern as they used to be. However, you should always look for a pan that's PFAs-free. Ceramic-based coatings tend to be the safer pick for non-stick.
If you still have any non-stick pans that predate 2015, they might contain PFAs. Recycle them so they can be broken down responsibly (more on that below) and go with a non-toxic option instead.
The old adage 'buy less, buy better" certainly applies here. Purchasing cookware that does double- or triple-duty can reduce the number of new pans you need to buy and save you valuable space in the kitchen.
Whenever you make a new purchase, it's smart to consider where it will go when you're done using it. Thankfully, most pans are made from stainless steel, cast iron, copper, or aluminum and can be recycled and turned into new metal materials relatively easily.
When the time comes, research if your curbside recycler can process your pans before you discard them in your blue bin; you might need to take them to a specialty waste manager. Non-stick pans tend to be more difficult to recycle, so make sure they accept those before bringing them in.
Made from a company that treats the environment right:
Whenever possible, look to buy from a company that produces locally and pays fair wages, runs an energy-efficient and low-waste factory, and uses minimal packaging to ship its products.
With this criteria in mind, here are the eco-friendly pans that would fit right in to any chef's kitchen:
Best non-stick pan:
Great Jones Small Fry
Great Jones was created to be a one-stop-shop for highly curated cookware. Their non-stick "small fry" pan is the perfect size for eggs, pancakes, and the like. It swaps PTFEs and PFOAs for a sleek ceramic coating and is oven-safe at up to 500°F and dishwasher-friendly.
Great Jones Small Fry ($55)
Food52 x GreenPan Non-Stick Skillet (Set of 2)
This is the PFOA-free ceramic pan that I use in my kitchen, and it's a total dream to clean (plus, it's dishwasher-safe!). It has an impressive ability to stand up to massive heat—above 600 degrees. While other models will start to chip, bubble, and release fumes at high temps, this one's patented natural coating is a great heat conductor.
Food52 x GreenPan Non-Stick Skillet (Set of 2) ($92–$99)
Caraway Sauté Pan
Another ceramic-coated option, this lidded non-toxic sauté pan is super sleek and available in a range of fun colors (marigold, anyone?). Made in a fair-wage factory, it's shipped in recycled cardboard with zero pesky plastic bags.
Caraway Sauté Pan ($135)
Best dutch oven:
Emile Henry Round Dutch Oven
French makers have notoriously high standards when it comes to cookware—and they don't have to cost an arm and a leg. This affordable ceramic Dutch oven from Emile Henry is made in France using clay from the countryside and has no lead, cadmium, or nickel, so there's no risk of contamination. It's also made to last a lifetime and can be used a million different ways, traveling from the microwave to the grill with ease.
Emile Henry Round Dutch Oven ($100)
Milo Small Dutch Oven
Milo's 3.5-quart Dutch oven's manageable size makes it great for anyone who's new to cooking or strapped for space. The best part? This little guy comes with a lifetime guarantee. (If it gets damaged from normal wear and tear, they'll replace it for free!)
Milo Small Dutch Oven ($110)
Made In Stainless Clad Saucepan
All unused materials leftover during manufacturing of this made-in-America stainless-steel saucepan is recycled or turned into parts for cars. Plus, the pan is designed to be multifunctional and safe on the stovetop and oven up to 800 degrees. If you're in the market for any other kitchen supplies, the eco-friendly brand sells knives, woks, and accessories too.
Made In Stainless Steel Sauce Pan ($109)
Our Place Always Pan
This viral pan can replace 9 items in your cabinet (fry pan, saute pan, steamer, skillet, saucier, saucepan, non-stick pan, spatula, and spoon rest). It's perfectly sized for normal stovetop cooking but deep enough to boil water for pasta and heavy-duty enough for braises, too. It's free of PFAs, partially made from recycled materials, and shipped in plastic-free packaging to boot.
Our Place Always Pan ($145)
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.