In the Kitchen: Why Recycling is Important for Your Health

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There’s been quite a bit of media attention on your kitchen lately.

More specifically, on the safety of your cookware and storage containers. Like plastic, for example, and its potential to leech manufacturing chemicals like BPA (Bisphenol A) into food.

Though some of the studies convicting BPA of harmful intent have been called into question for flabby limitations, and though the verdict is still out as to what level of BPA exposure is harmful, the ball of reactions has started rolling. From FDA bans on BPA in baby bottles to hundreds of green health guides offering plastic alternatives, the conversation about plastic (and, perhaps more importantly, the ways we manufacture it and use it) are underway.

Beyond health considerations, though, choices made in the kitchen also have a greater impact on the environment as a whole—a conversation that seems to have taken a backseat to the debates about plastic and personal health.

Here are a few big-picture perspectives to consider as you make choices about what materials you use in the kitchen—and how you use them.

Production

Aluminum, like plastic, is another popular material found in most kitchens. Aluminum is often a choice material for pot and pan manufacturing because of its good heat conductivity, and many major cookware manufacturers utilize aluminum in pan bottoms or non-stick surfaces. Not to mention everyday products like aluminum foil and cans.

The large-scale industrial manufacturing process that aluminum undergoes, however, has a massive impact on the environment, particularly in the emission of gases. Aluminum production, for example, “is the leading source of perfluocarbon emissions in the United States,” says to Environmental Literacy Council, which is a potent greenhouse gas.

Likewise, stainless steel—another popular material for kitchen cookware—requires an incredible amount of energy and fossil fuel, and releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Disposal

At the other end of a product’s life-cycle, the concern shifts from the environmental impact of production to disposal. Despite over a decade of active pushing for recycling, plastic, for example, still contributes “to an array of environmental problems,” says Environmental Health News. These include plastic being ingested by animals, plastic debris polluting the waterways and carrying invasive species into new habitats, and plastic waste buried in landfills and leeching harmful chemicals into groundwater.

Solutions

Though there is no perfect solution or alternative to the production and disposal of aluminum, stainless steel and plastic, the underlying step in the right direction continues to be recycling.

To combat the emission of greenhouse gases from aluminum extraction and production, recycle. “Aluminum recovery from scrap requires only 5 percent of the energy required to extract it. Therefore, secondary aluminum production from recycling scrap has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” claims the Environmental Literacy Council.

To combat the emission of greenhouse gases from stainless steel manufacturing, recycle. “[I]f the steel mills use recycled iron, instead of newly mined pig iron, the environmental and health impact can be reduced by 10 percent to 15 percent,” write NYTimes’ Daniel Goleman and Gregory Norris.

And to combat overuse of plastic, choose re-usable containers, like glass.

What steps have you taken in your kitchen to optimize personal and environmental health?