Are your pans leaching dangerous chemicals or your scrubbers becoming a breeding ground for unhealthy germs? In this article, I will show you 17 easy swaps that you can make today to give you a healthier and more eco-friendly kitchen.
I wanted to give some simple swaps that will definitely improve your health and your life. All of these swaps, I believe, can do just that whilst also helping the environment and being totally sustainable.
One quick note: if you are able to buy these things locally, PLEASE DO. Local traders are an important part of the economic revival and your eco-store needs your help.
If however, you do buy online please be aware that I may earn a small commission. Any commissions earned will be used to fund this website and spread the word.
Which brings me to… 17 easy eco-friendly swaps you can make today and why you should make them! Enjoy!
Instead Of: Non-Stick Pots & Pans
Non-stick pans are great to cook with and it’s easy to see why. The non-stick coating easily prevents food from sticking to the surface and requires little or no oil to achieve this. But are they safe?
Unfortunately, the answer to this is question is both yes and no. Non-stick coatings on older or flimsy bakeware are generally to be avoided. These pots and pans can be coated with polytetrafluoroethylene,(PTFE) also known as Teflon which is known to flake.
These flakes can then be ingested or be scrubbed off into our waterways where they can leach chemicals.
However, PTFE is not the major problem, it is the synthetic bonding compound, perfluorooctanoic acid, (PFOA) which is the real danger here. PFOA bonds the PTFE to the surface and is known to be a cancer-causing agent in animals.
PFOA exposure is linked to kidney and testicular cancer, colitis, thyroid problems, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure in pregnancy.
PTFE poses a risk due to the fluorine content which can burn off at high temperatures. Fluorine exposure can be dangerous to both humans and pets–especially birds, who have more sensitive respiratory systems.
In extreme cases of pan overheating and subsequent fluorine release, some pet birds may even die from overexposure.
However recent advancements in the non-stick industry have made their products safer. My advice is to do your research prior to making a purchase or avoid them altogether.
Newer ceramic cookware for instance has all the great properties of non-stick but is PFOA free.
To have a healthy eco-friendly kitchen please make sure that you are PFOA free.
Alternative 1. Ceramic
Unlike the dangers associated with Teflon cookware, ceramic will not leach metal flakes into your food. It is also easy to clean, durable doesn’t corrode, and can be used directly on the stovetop or in the oven.
Some dishes are also colored, embossed, or patterned to make a stylish addition to your eco-friendly kitchen.
However not all ceramic vessels are kiln-fired and glazed. New ceramic cookware can be pots and pans made of metal and then coated with a PFOA free non-stick enamel.
This new type of ceramic cookware is sometimes referred to as “green” cookware and is chip and scratch resistant.
This set comes PTFE and PFOA free and the coating is scratch resistant.
What I Like
- Thermolon ceramic nonstick coating
- Ergonomic stay-cool soft-grip handle
- Oven safe to 350 degrees F
- Glass lids
- Dishwasher safe
- 16pc set
What I Don’t Like
- Not induction ready
- The handles of the frypans are not riveted
Alternative 2. Glass
I love glass as it can be recycled directly back into itself over and over again in a true closed-loop system. It is relatively cheap and good glassware can last a lifetime.
Furthermore, it has no chemicals to leach, is available at all price points, and is easy to maintain. What’s not to like!
Glass is the ultimate addition to any eco-friendly kitchen and I can’t imagine mine without it!
Alternative 3. Cast Iron
The main reason a lot of people love cast iron, apart from being gorgeous, is that they are chemical free.
So,unlike some non-stick pans, you can cook at high heat knowing that no dangerous chemicals will be released. This is a particularly great feature when you need to sear a piece of meat or get that charred look.
Cast iron is heavy, holds an even heat, is virtually indestructible, and will cook anything you care to throw at it. You can even take it away with you and throw it on the BBQ.
Moreover, you can use virtually any kitchen utensil and not scratch it and it will probably have a longer life than you!
Just remember to oil or season it so that it does not rust.
This is a nice all round 12.5 inch starter pan
What I Like
- This comes pre-seasoned so is ready for use.
- Comes with two handles for easy handling.
- Is a nice size at 12.5 inches and almost 2 inches deep.
What I Don’t Like
- Sometimes they don’t have the greatest seasoning when bought so redo this. (Before cooking, rub some olive oil over your cookware’s surface).
Alternative 4. Stainless Steel
Stainless steel is the choice for professional chefs and for good reason. This versatile cookware will allow you to sear, brown, crisp, and simmer food without all the weight of cast iron.
However, like cast iron, you can easily go from stovetop to oven and even under the grill if you wish to. Furthermore, it will not rust, is induction compatible, does not stain, and has the durability of cast iron.
Another key selling point is that it will not degrade over time like ceramic and nonstick cookware.Just be sure not to buy cheaply as stainless steel is an amalgamation of metals, therefore the higher the quality the higher the price.
Unfortunately, with greater quality also comes greater weight. So if you have weak wrists or a core strength issue then stainless steel might not be for you.
Alternative 5. Baking Mats
These clever little sheets get an honorable mention here as they are so versatile. These handy kitchen mats can replace your baking parchment and even do double duty in making crafts. If required they can go from freezer to oven and can be cut down to line your baking tins.
Non-stick but clingy on kitchen counters, these handy mats make a great surface for kneading dough or rolling. Initially, they are a little more expensive than baking parchment but they are washable and can last up to two years.
However, the upside to baking parchment is that, unlike baking mats, parchment paper promotes crispness and browning. It can also be used to line muffin tins, make impromptu piping bags, and can be folded.
My main concern is that baking parchment creates a lot of waste as it is essentially a disposable item. This will increase your carbon footprint, increase your time in the kitchen, and create more mess.
This is why I carry both and would advise that you carry both also. In this way, you can use baking sheets frequently and be eco-friendly in your kitchen by cutting down on your use of a disposable item.
Instead Of: Harsh Cleaners
Many household cleaning products such as furniture polish, oven/drain cleaners, and even air fresheners are classed as hazardous waste.
If you don’t believe that they are toxic here are some examples:
- Ammonia – in glass cleaner – eye and lung irritant, can cause headaches
- Phenol and Cresol – in disinfectants – can cause diarrhea, fainting, kidney and liver damage
- Nitrobenzene – in some polishes – can cause shallow breathing, vomiting, and death
- Sodium hypochlorite – in chlorine bleach – may cause asthmatic and respiratory problems
Also, household cleaning products and solvents may contain chemicals called volatile organic compounds, (VOCs). These compounds can be very toxic to both you and the environment.
For this reason, many governments are restricting the inclusion of VOCs or removing them altogether.
Alternative 1. DIY Cleaners
The easy alternative to these toxic products is to make your own from natural ingredients. Honestly, it is easier than you think and only takes a few basic ingredients.
Many of these you probably already own such as baking soda, vinegar, essential oils, and beeswax.
Furthermore, it will reduce the number of, and levels of, toxins in the air and plastic in the world. Plus as bonuses, it will save you money whilst also improving your health.
Here are some DIY natural cleaning tips and recipes to get you started:
Instead Of: Paper Towels
Alternative 1. Cloth
However, the amount of deforestation that occurs annually to produce paper towels is frightening. It is also estimated that about 254 million tons of paper towels are discarded around the world every year.
This changes it from being a sustainable product to being a frivolous luxury item. A simple rag, clothing offcut, can do the same job and be recyclable, compostable, and will also decompose.
Here you can find a sleek-looking reusable towel roll to match your decor and never be short of a cloth.
Instead Of: Conventional Sponge
A 2017 study published on Scientific reports shows that your kitchen sponge probably contains more bacteria than your toilet.
Most kitchen sponges are also made from polyester or nylon which does not biodegrade. This means that they will sit in a landfill for many years and then leach chemicals into the environment. All in all cheap, poorly manufactured sponges can be considered a bad thing.
Alternative 1. Swedish Dishcloth
Swedish dishcloths have the functionality of a sponge and the versatility of microfibre cloth. I don’t recommend microfibre cloths as they leach microbeads of plastic into the environment.
Swedish dishcloths are easy to use, washable, biodegradable, and are made from 100% natural, earth-friendly materials.
These dishcloths also air dry quicker meaning slower bacteria growth and they can be popped into the dishwasher for sanitizing!
Alternative 2. Organic Sponge
A natural sponge/loofah is grown from the ground up and is a great alternative to plastic, silicone, and plastic mesh poufs and sponges. They are eco-friendly, as they are harvested free of chemicals and harsh processes that could harm the environment.
Eco Sponges are the natural alternative to traditional kitchen sponges and rarely scratch surfaces. They do however provide enough abrasion to get the job done.
Plus they can be very stylish and will look great in any eco-friendly kitchen.
Alternative 3. Copper Scouring Pad
For your heavy-duty baked-on residue a copper scourer is preferable to stainless steel scourer as the metal is softer. This means that you are less likely to scratch sensitive surfaces even with a rough hand.
Copper scourers can be used on your pots, pans, sinks, glasses, and even stainless steel. They are so effective if you want to you can even clean your motorcycle with them!
Dad’s tip; To deep clean all of the above, soak for a few hours in 1 part white or apple cider vinegar to two parts water and a little lemon juice.
Instead Of: Plastic Food Containers
Think about this; 300 million tonnes of new plastic is being produced each year. And it can take up to one thousand years for plastic to disintegrate back into its elements. Then as it does so, it releases harmful chemicals into the environment and thus into many species of life.
This is why we need to reduce our dependence upon plastic and remove it from our kitchens. To do this we need to start with the small stuff such as plastic food containers.
Plastic containers stain, crack, smell, and in some cases, can contain bisphenol A which is a known endocrine disruptor.
Exposure to BPA can cause:
- Changes in the development and behavior of infants and children
- Changes in a developing fetus
- Interference with the body’s natural hormones
- Changes in reproductive function
Bisphenol A is used in the manufacturer of some plastics which may include food and drink can linings. However, it is no longer used in Europe in PET food and drink containers.
So although plastics are lightweight, easy to use, and convenient they are not the best solution for a sustainable world. Furthermore, if your goal is to have a healthy eco-friendly kitchen then plastics should be discouraged.
Alternative 1. Glass
For storing food at home a good glass jar is my all-time favorite alternative to plastic. It is washable, stain-resistant, looks good, and can be permanently recycled.
Glass jars can be bought, gifted, repurposed, frozen, chilled, and carried. The only limit is your imagination so ditch the plastic and change to your eco-friendly glass today.
Alternative 2. Stainless Steel
Say goodbye to your dull, stained, or broken plastic containers and say hello to your bright new alternative. Stainless steel is tough, lightweight, and more importantly non-toxic. The germ-resistant surface will ensure that your food stays as fresh as the moment you put it in there.
Stainless steel is perfect for those packed lunches and impromptu picnics that the kids love. Carry them with you when you dine out as they make the perfect doggy bag box or waste carrier.
If you want a great, good looking alternative to plastic then stainless steel is the way to go.
Alternative 3. Silicone
Silicone is a soft synthetic rubber that is lighter than glass and steel but does not have their rigidity. It’s becoming more popular in the kitchen and can be made into virtually any shape.
You can have lunch boxes, storage containers, zip-up bags (Ziplocs), and even stretchy lids of various sizes.
This set comes with 4 silicone bags, 6 stretchy lids, 6 produce mesh bags and is great for the eco-friendly kitchen.
What I Like
- Great starter set of 16 items.
- free of harmful toxins like BPA, PVC, and phthalates.
- Made from the highest quality LFGB approved food-grade silicone
- Packaging has no plastic component whatsoever.
What I Don’t Like
- What’s not to like!
Silicone is believed to have low toxicity and thermal stability whilst also being non-stick and easy to clean. It can go straight from the oven to the freezer and has no odors that will affect the food quality.
However, at present, it doesn’t biodegrade and can’t be recycled so it’s not all good news.
The good news is that it is a safer alternative to Teflon or another perfluorooctanoic acid, (PFOA) treated non-stick items. However, for safety’s sake, I would recommend only purchasing food-grade silicone products.
Like stainless steel price equals quality and the stability of silicones might be compromised at temperatures exceeding 220 C (428 F). To date, I know of no known issues around lower temperature use but it’s always best to buy good quality products.
Alternative 4. Aluminum
Strangely enough, aluminum is not found as a free metal on earth and needs to be processed to form metal slabs. These slabs are then pressed and rolled to create the aluminum products that we know and love.
Aluminum is also the most abundant metal on earth and is even present in the air that we breathe.
It would appear then that aluminum would be the perfect choice for the eco-friendly kitchen. However, not all is as it seems…
Recent studies have shown that aluminum can break down and leach into foods. The amount of leaching can surpass that allowed by the World Health Organisation, (WHO) & the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
For more information please read:
Aluminum as an acceptable food cooking, wrapping, or storing element is still being investigated which saddens me. I have used this product for years but for the moment I cannot recommend it.
As I think the suspected risk to health over the long term is just too high. For this reason, I would recommend using glassware, stainless steel, or good quality food-grade silicone in your kitchen.
Alternative 5. Beeswax Food Wraps
These stylish looking wraps are a great alternative to plastic and are a lovely addition to any kitchen.
Beeswax wraps are made of beeswax and a type of fabric, usually cotton or hemp. This gives them great antibacterial and antifungal properties whilst also being watertight.
They keep the food fresh as they lock in moisture and also let the food breathe, something that plastic wraps, being airtight, never do.
Beeswax wraps have effectively replaced my dependence on aluminum foil. This is because they allow me to cover, wrap, and store cold foods safely.
They are also biodegradable, compostable, reusable, and smell like a summer day.
Plus they are super simple to use, Just use your hands to mold the wrap around your food. Hold them there for a moment and their warmth will make the wrap grip tightly to the food. As it cools it hardens and forms the airtight seal that you need.
It’s so simple even I can do it!
OrgaWise beeswax Wraps are made with 100% organic certified cotton cloth. The fabric is GOTS certified (Global Organic Textile Standard) infused with FDA Certified beeswax, tree resin and organic jojoba oil.
4 Pack beeswax wraps:1 small: 8″ x 8″, 2 medium: 11″ x 11″, 1 large: 14” x 14”,
Alternative 6. Cloth
This might not be to everyone’s taste but people have been wrapping food in cloths for centuries. There is even a method of wrapping and folding specially designed and adapted for this purpose.
It is called the Furoshiki method and is a great way to eliminate your need for plastic lunch boxes.
The Furoshiki method of wrapping is the most sustainable and ecologically friendly way of wrapping on earth and I love it. Never be without a bag, know how to wrap gifts, and be kind to the earth, who could ask for more.
Bits & Bobs
Instead Of: Plastic Utensils
Plastic utensils look cheap, breakdown over time, and can leach harmful chemicals into our foods. They are a major contributor to kitchen-related landfill and take thousands of years to disintegrate. Plus there is barely a house in the country which doesn’t have a draw full of unused items.
Alternative 1. Bamboo
All of these qualities make it perfect for crafting into kitchen utensils, bowls, and tools. It’s also stylish enough to be considered an excellent wedding gift and will not scratch any non-stick surfaces. If you want to replace your kitchen utensils over time then bamboo is probably the best long term eco-friendly choice for you.
There is a lot more that could be discussed here but for me, these are the easiest swaps to gain the maximum benefit. Kitchen utensils should be a bigger target but given the large range, I thought it best to only briefly mention them. (Otherwise, we would be here all night)!
So my point is don’t fret at the sustainability level of your eco-friendly kitchen. Just change a little at a time and research what is best for you. This article has shown you a few different options but honestly, there are thousands out there.
My advice is to start small, think about the health cost to you and the environment, and buy within your price bracket. And before you know it, your kitchen will be more eco-friendly than ever!
Oh and don’t forget the metal straws, yes it is a trendy swap to make but never the less, it’s still impactful.
So simple, so sustainable.
Good luck : )
Mark Aspland is a proud father of two boys, would be amateur actor and green living enthusiast. He has been sharing hints, tips and sustainable living content on his website Sustainability Dad since august 2019.
He now has an army of followers who are like hearted individuals passionate about the environment and how to affect positive change through peaceful action.