Ask the Shmethicist: Does Tossing Flaky Teflon Make for Flaky Ethics?

This is your brain with a shmethical dilemma.

This is your brain with a shmethical dilemma

Dearest Shmethicist,

I recently decided to stop using my Teflon-lined rice cooker because I’m finally convinced that coating isn’t something I want flaking into my food and getting into my body. I figured there are still lots of people out there who don’t mind non-stick stuff and even prefer it, so I gave my rice cooker away for free. I also gave away a set of plastic mixing bowls when I bought stainless steel ones. I figured it would save someone money and keep those things out of the landfill. But later I talked to my mom and her reaction was that I should absolutely NOT subject other people to the things I wouldn’t use myself. She’s very conscious of sustainable practices and is a big advocate of fixing things rather than throwing them away and buying new ones, and she buys a lot of second-hand stuff herself. But she was certain that my rice cooker was better off in the trash.

What do you think? Send the old stuff to the dump, or give it to people who might buy it anyway?


Frying Pan into the Fire?

Dear Frying Pain into the Fire,

This is a Jewish food blog. You know I’m going to say your mother is right.

But this being a progressive Jewish food blog, I’m going to say you are also right.

And shmethics being the tricky business that they are, I have to tell you: you’re also both wrong.

(Thanks for asking something so complicated, because that’s what any good advice column needs)

Your mother is right that if you feel a flaky Teflon pan is not healthy for you to cook with, it’s flaky ethics to give it to someone else to cook with. Whether that person knows or cares about the dangers of Teflon is irrelevant. If I find myself with half a pack of cigarettes in my possession, I wouldn’t give them to the teen I see smoking at the bus stop, no matter how deep in denial she is about the medical risks of sucking burning carcinogens into her lungs.

But you’re right to be concerned about the environmental issues raised by casting off the old as you cast iron in the new. And it’s not just the volume you might add to the landfill that should worry you. There is reasonable concern that phthalates, Bisphenol A, perflourinated chemicals and all those other goodies that are in plastics, Teflon, etc. are leaching into water and soil.

Which is why you can’t just toss your toxic kitchenware.

So what’s a smethical Jew to do?

Here’s what I did. I quarantined my nonstick cookware, dug out my collection of circa 1973 Sunset Magazines, got out the glue sticks, and came up with this crafty solution.

A Panoply of Creative Unleashed!

A Panoply of Creative Unleashed!

Panning for Crafty Gold!

Panning for Crafty Gold!

Was: toxic shlock. Now: art!

So I charge you, dear readers: what’s the craftiest solution YOU can come up with for transforming a toxic former-kitchen gadget into a cool keepsake? Post your ideas!  Post your pix!

And send your own ethical food questions to the shmethicist!

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9 Responses to “Ask the Shmethicist: Does Tossing Flaky Teflon Make for Flaky Ethics?”

  1. Maya Says:

    Haha… I love it!! These would totally make great gifts!

    Hmm. It it were me, I’d probably end up doing something boring with these pots like using them to catch the drips when I overwater my houseplants. Oooh! Why not make the bigger pots (not the frying pans) actual houseplant pots! If nothing else, it would test the idea that the coating is toxic. :)

    I love this site! I’m linking to it from my (brand new) blog!


  2. Ilana Says:

    I have to disagree that giving them away is a bad option (fun as that art project looks!). The reality is that many people are buying new teflon pans and plastic bowls every day. Giving them our used ones means that they will be less likely to buy new ones. I feel the same way about chemical cleaners. When I got rid of mine, I gave to my mother-in-law. If I hadn’t given them to her, she wouldn’t have gone out and bought it herself. It is still a savings for the planet. Unfortunately, we can’t convince everyone of the environmental and health implications of their habits, so we may as well save them some money, and keep an extra new pot from being made.


  3. patti Says:

    i believe the condition of your rice cooker at the time you decided to get rid of it needs to be taken into account. as i understand it, most people regard non-stick cookware as safe to use if the lining is intact. if yours was intact but you nevertheless felt uncomfortable continuing to use it, i see no problem with passing it on. if the lining was scratched or otherwise presented a definite risk of flaking in the near term, then i’d say it was unethical to let someone else use it.

  4. Lewdmilla Says:

    Oh, I would say make art out of them. If that’s not feasible for you (or if there are no nifty recyclable-art mavens in your area), toss that sucker out.

    To deflect the negative vibes associated with throwing a big chunk of metal into the trash heap — maybe get your tzedakah on and donate a non-teflon-tainted pan to a women’s shelter or children’s home? We are always in need of good pans. ;)

  5. Sharon Says:

    Here is one more idea, not so much for the rice cooker but for old pots and pans you don’t want to use anymore. I too can’t bare the thought of them going into the land fill to pollute the water so I have them stored in the basement and they are our camping cookware. Since we only use them once or twice a year, I’m okay using them for that and they are totally trashed from being over a fire. So, I’ve recycled them into camping cookware and they aren’t in a landfill – but we are using them to cook our food with a couple times a year. It is all about trade-offs I guess.

  6. Hannah Lee Says:

    My daughter made a clock out of a vinyl record (who has them anymore?) in art camp. So, how about a frying pan clock?

  7. beth Says:

    Really overdue response here. We recently faced the dilemma of getting rid of an old teflon-lined pan, a big deep-dish monster. Our solution? I now use it to soak greasy bike parts in. The pan is big enough to hold a set of cranks, the freewheel and chain, and still have room to handle them with a small nylon-bristle scrub brush.

    Of course, this begs the questions: what solvent do you use? And what do you do after you’ve cleaned off the gunk?

    1. I use and recommend El Duke Degreaser (, a soybean-based product and totally safe — I no longer need to wear rubber gloves when cleaning bike parts. When the parts are scrubbed clean, rinse in hot water and drip dry.

    2. When I’m done with the disgusting grease-filled solvent, I pour it off into a small plastic jug, let it settle for a few hours, then carefully pour off the top two-thirds into a jar for re-use (it’s good for a couple of cycles this way, albeit in smaller amounts each time). The bottom third in the plastic jug gets put out for pickup with the rest of our recycleables.

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