If you use a non-stick pan in a reasonable way, you should be able to have to replace it only every 3 years. Let’s assume our “actively cooking” lifespan is approximately 60 years—we live at our parents‘ until we’re 20 and have some super-cool-zero-waste-food-delivery after 80.
That would be in total 20 pans sent to landfill at the end of a lifetime. And that’s only to own one pan! I don’t know about you, but I personally don’t know anyone that uses only one pan to make everything.
It pays off
In a lifetime, buying some quality supplies pays off: if we assume an average non-stick pan costs around 25$, that would make 750$ spent in a lifetime, again just to own one pan.
When I moved out of my parents’, I didn’t have a massive budget to invest in cookware, but still managed to buy some quality-ones, as it was part of my priorities. I simply waited a bit between my purchases instead of buying everything I needed at the same time, as I did not want to get a “temporary solution” until I would have enough money to buy good supplies (which sometimes never happens as there’s always something more urgent to buy). Also, remember that second-hand websites are your best friends!
Step 1: estimate what your needs are
Having a kitchen full of supplies that are piling up and gathering dust in the corner is useless, so take some time to properly assess your needs. Choose quality over quantity!
Start by asking yourself what your favourite dishes are? What do you need to make them? Do you really need a waffle maker or are you just going to make waffles once or twice a year? If so, getting some from time to time at that cafe down the road is probably financially and environmentally more interesting.
Some brands like to sell big cooking batteries, which I understand can be tempting, as the individual cost per item is generally lower. I am personally not in favour of buying these because although they give us a feeling of abundance, quite often we end up using only half of it, and the rest is just a waste of resources and space, which isn’t beneficial for anyone.
Step 2: choose the material
When thinking about durable, eco-friendly materials, we usually think of stainless steel, cast iron, ceramic and glass. I eliminated ceramic from the material candidates as it is said to be very fragile. So even if it shouldn’t leach any harmful chemicals, its lifespan just didn’t make it a durable (and thus eco-friendly) option.
Everyone has different needs in terms of cooking, so there are no one-size-fits-all supplies. Here are the items that I personally bought when I moved out of my parents’ home, and the reasons why I picked those materials and brands.
My 3 essentials
I am a huge fan of saucy dishes, so this one was a must-have. Stainless steel fits perfectly the need for liquidy dishes as it allows low-heat cooking (I wouldn’t want my veggies to be emptied of their precious nutrients) and you can put it in the oven. Plus it is very forgiving: even if you burn something in it, you’ll probably be able to easily clean it.
The weight of the casserole is also something I considered: that item is used almost every day so I didn’t want to have something my wrists would barely be able to lift.
Stainless steel is great for the environment as it is 100% recyclable and literally lasts a lifetime. It’s also great a healthy option as it isn’t leaking any chemicals you wouldn’t want your body to absorb. For higher budgets, I’d recommend Mauviel, as their cookware is made in France, whereas Le Creuset Stainless Steel Cookware is made in China.
Stainless steel is great, but when it comes to seizing things or cooking pancakes, it isn’t your best bet. So for that need, I went for cast iron as it is naturally non-stick, meaning you barely need to grease it. Skeppshult cast iron products are already seasoned when you buy them, so they’re entirely ready to use!
It is a dream to clean, as you simply need to rinse it with a soft brush. I usually spread a bit of oil on it before storing it to keep it nourished (which is absorbed by the pan, so don’t worry about your food having a rancid oil taste afterwards). One other good thing about cast iron, it that like stainless steel, it is indestructible. For the clumsy ones in the audience: be wary, you don’t want that thing to fall on your feet! Skeppshult makes uncoated cast iron cookware, meaning there’s no enamel, which is supposed to make it even more non-stick and prevent it from leaking iron (whether that’s a benefit or a drawback still hasn’t been clearly defined). Uncoated cast iron seemed to be the most long-lasting option to me as enamel coating is quite fragile and can be prone to chipping after some time.
All Skeppshult products come with a 25 year cast iron guarantee and are made in Sweden.
Most of the things I cook in a pot are watery, so stainless steel was my best durable option for that item too. If I were to cook goods that required a non-stick surface, I would have gone for a cast-iron pot.
Stainless steel is durable and long–lasting: even if you tried, I’m not sure you would manage to damage it! I once burnt quite heavily popcorn in it (I know, I’m the distracted kind): so I didn’t know what to do apart from normally washing it, as you can’t use corrosive scourers on stainless steel. I almost cried when I saw that the bottom of it had a darker colour and black stains. I then just used it a few more times after that and everything eventually vanished. All Le Creuset stainless steel products come with a lifetime guarantee.
Other brands to consider
The items above are the ones I went for, that suited my needs. Le Creuset, for example, has a few competitors, offering very similar quality for similar prices, so in that case, I’ll admit that the reason I went for Le Creuset over another brand is purely for practical and aesthetic reasons. Here are some other brands I considered during my research for the perfect cookware:
• For stainless steel
· Demeyere makes top-notch quality stainless cookware, all made in Belgium and guaranteed for 30 years.
· All-Clad is available in the US and in Canada and offers lifetime-guaranteed stainless steel cookware
· Mauviel is one step above the other brands mentioned in terms of quality and price, with all their cookware being guaranteed for life and made in France.
No matter the brand, keep in mind that if you go for a coated item, any guarantee will cover manufacturing defects, not fair wear and tear. And coatings do spoil over time, even if handled with proper and delicate care. That’s not to mention the health hazard some of those coatings can be, depending on how you use them.
• For cast iron
· Staub offers a 30-year guarantee on all their (enamelled) cast iron products.
· Le Creuset also makes enamelled cast iron products, all carrying a lifetime guarantee too.
· SolidTeknics makes cast iron and wrought iron cookware, and everything is built with the idea of lasting for multiple generations. To make sure we take them seriously, they offer a multiple-century guarantee on all their products. Yep, just that!
Please let me know if you know any other brand that should be mentioned on this list.
Keep it for life!
I’ve had only the 3 items mentioned above as well as a big glass dish (for things that need to be grilled in bulk) for 2 years now, and what looked a bit too minimalist has worked out great so far. I’d probably buy another stainless steel pot that’s a bit smaller one day for meals that require more than one thing cooked in water but apart from that, these 3 got all my cooking needs covered! And I must say I absolutely love the idea of having cookware you keep for a lifetime and even get to pass onto your children, as old-fashioned as that may sound!
Cover image source: Gaelle Marcel — thank you.
Morgane is a London-based writer and the founder of Zero Waste Nest. She’s passionate about sustainable living, ethical fashion and social justice. She also founded the Ethical Fashion Guide, with the firm intention to make ethical fashion the norm. Her retirement plans are to adopt as many stray cats as she’s able to.