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YES! But How? :: Hazards of Non-Stick Cookware

Non-stick Cookware Safety, Refrigerator Efficiency, Expired Medicine, Recycling Cell Phones, Leftover Soap

NON-STICK COOKWARE SAFETY

Is it safe to cook with non-stick cookware?

The material used in non-stick cookware is polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), a substance most of us know as Teflon or Silverstone. When heated for long periods at high temperatures, these non-stick coatings degrade, releasing chemicals that can kill birds and could have harmful effects on people and the environment.

Current research findings disagree over the temperature at which the materials in non-stick coatings degrade and become potentially toxic. Some suggest that normal pre-heating can create a temperature that is high enough to release chemicals such as trifluoroacetic acid (TF), which can be toxic to plants and takes decades to degrade. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which are linked to ozone depletion, and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a carcinogen that never breaks down in the environment and has been shown to be toxic to rats and monkeys, may also be emitted in small amounts.

Manufacturers of non-stick products, however, assure consumers that normal cooking conditions will not result in the extreme temperatures that produce harmful fumes. The FDA also argues that particles that may chip off of non-stick cookware with hard use will pass unchanged through your body and pose no health hazard.

While your pan may not become hot enough to affect the coating during day-to-day cooking, it is a good idea to safeguard against releasing any harmful substances. Use plastic utensils and soft cleaning pads on your cookware to avoid chipping off particles that can get into your food or into the air. Never preheat an empty pan for longer than a minute.

If you would rather avoid the possible hazards of using non-stick cookware (and the hazards of producing it), consider switching to stainless steel or cast iron cookware. Cast iron is an old favorite. It lasts much longer (so long that you can pass cast iron pans to your grandchildren), can safely withstand high temperature, and may be a source of nutritional iron. Stainless steel will not tarnish or corrode and is resistant to wear.

—Rachel Milanez


OLD FRIDGE

My old refrigerator seems to run for long periods of time, even when it has not been opened. I don't like the noise or the waste of electricity. What can I do to help it run more efficiently?

There are at least three things you can do to help your old fridge run more efficiently: make sure your fridge's door is well sealed, guard against ice buildup, and clean dirty condenser coils.

To test your fridge's door seal, close it on a dollar bill. If the bill pulls out easily, you may need a new gasket. If not, you could still help your fridge run more efficiently by not leaving the door open for long. Every time you open the door, the compressor has to run for eight to 10 minutes afterwards to keep the inside of your fridge cold.

Ice buildup in your freezer acts as an insulator, making your fridge run longer and work harder. Defrost the freezer compartment regularly to prevent the buildup.

Dirty condenser coils cause your fridge to use more energy than it should, so clean them several times a year. Be sure to unplug the fridge first and be careful not to bend or break the coils while cleaning them.

Lastly, if your fridge is over 10 years old, consider replacing it with an Energy Star refrigerator. This can save you over 2,000 kWh. It also reduces carbon dioxide emissions by over 2,000 pounds every year. However, you must balance these savings against the raw materials and energy consumed in producing a new refrigerator—or any new product.

—Becky Brun


EXPIRED MEDICINE

What is the most responsible way to dispose of expired or unwanted medicine?

No universal policy for the disposal of expired or unwanted medicine exists. Flushing these down the toilet has long been the preferred method of disposal for most people, including pharmacists. However, studies have found rising levels of antibiotics and hormones from birth control pills in municipal groundwater supplies. Whether that level is mostly a result of excrement or of discarded pills is unclear.

Alternatives to flushing medications down the toilet do exist, however. The most commonly advised alternative is to break up capsules and crush tablets, then put the remains back in their original child-resistant containers. Tape them up and double-bag them before tossing.

Another alternative is to check whether your local hazardous waste collection program accepts expired medicines. Some pharmacies may also accept them.

Consider donating any yet-to-expire medicine to an organization that sends these to developing countries. United Trauma Relief (web.mit.edu/utr/www/) offers information on donating unused drugs.

—Becky Brun


RECYCLING CELLULAR PHONES

I have updated my cellular phone and now wonder what to do with my old phone. Any suggestions?

Do keep your old cellular phone out of landfills and incinerators. Cell phones contain lead and mercury.

According to the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA), more than 80 million cellular phones are sold in North America each year. On average, consumers replace their phones every 18 months, creating a stockpile of retired wireless devices and a source of hazardous waste.

Wireless communication companies have set up phone recycling programs. AT&T Wireless, for example, invites you to participate in its tax deductible recycling of used cellular phones, accessories, and batteries. Sprint PCS, through its Sprint Project Connect, urges you to donate previously used phones to help people with disabilities. Verizon Wireless, through its HopeLine program, uses proceeds from the sale of donated phones to fund nonprofit agencies or to purchase cellular phones for victims of domestic violence.

There are also private companies that will buy your used cellular phone. CellForCash.com, for one, lists 217 models for which it will pay prices ranging from $4 for an analog Motorola StarTac to $85 for a Nokia 6800. The company resells used phones to companies that refurbish them.

Copper can be recovered from chargers. The plastic in handsets can be recycled (although reprocessing plastic consumes so much energy and so degrades the product that recycling of plastic is of questionable value). Precious metals—from gold to silver and palladium—can be recovered from circuit boards. Nickel, iron, cadmium, lead, and cobalt can be recovered from batteries.

You could donate your phone to a friend who has yet to own one or to a charity in your community. Websites such as Earth 911 Locator will locate your nearest donation center.

For more information, visit:

Or visit the website of one of the companies that distribute cell phones and can help you recycle them:

—Mike F. Leonen

LEFTOVER SOAP

What can I do with leftover pieces of soap?

Soaking those soap scraps inside a wide-mouthed container with a screw-on pump can turn them into liquid hand soap. Commercial versions of this container include liquefying beads to help break down soap. Another option is to rub the soap scraps into a washcloth or mitt.

A quick web search containing the phrase “soap saver” will pull up a number of resources, including crochet patterns and instructions for making or buying a variety of soap-saving gloves and sachets.

—Susan Gleason

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