YES! But How? :: Non-stick Alternatives

If you're looking for practical ways to live sustainably, just ask us.


I've heard that non-stick pans may not be the safest to cook with. I've also heard that cast iron skillets are a much better alternative. What's wrong with non-stick pans? And aren't cast iron skillets really complicated to clean?

Those non-stick pans contain some nasty stuff. For starters, non-stick surfaces contain perfluorooctanoic acid, which the EPA classifies as a “likely human carcinogen.” No surprise from a chemical whose name you can't pronounce.

Even worse, heating empty non-stick cookware on the stove releases toxic fumes proved to kill pet birds within 15 minutes.

Giving up non-stick cookware doesn't mean you have to fry eggs in a soup pot and spend hours scraping stuck, crusty goo. Cast iron cookware uses old-school technology to keep food from sticking: a good grease coating.

Cast iron skillets require a little upkeep, but they work like a charm. To season a new pan, slather it with lard or bacon grease and bake for 15 minutes at 250-300 degrees. Vegetable oil is a workable, vegan-friendly alternative though it doesn't work quite as well. Remove the skillet, pour out any excess grease, and bake the pan for a full two hours. Repeat this process a second time for a natural, non-toxic, non-stick cooking surface. And no dead canaries!

Soaps and detergents will strip the seasoning off your cast iron, so just clean with hot water and a scouring pad. Residual food slides off easily while the skillet is still warm.

—Zach Kyle


It seems to be taking longer to dry clothes in my dryer. Any idea what I can do to make my dryer run more efficiently?

Try cleaning your dryer's exhaust duct, that accordion-style tube connecting the dryer to the wall. Lint gunks up that tube, just like it gunks up the lint filter, restricting airflow like a clogged artery. This reduces the dryer's efficiency and is also a fire hazard. Every year, almost 13,000 fires start when tinder-dry lint in dryer ducts catches a spark.

To loosen this stuck lint, you'll need an exhaust duct brush, a stiff circular brush fastened to a long rod made of flexible material that can be snaked through the duct. When you clean the ducts, be sure to clean from both the external (outside) end as well as the end that's attached to your dryer. The latter will require that you temporarily disconnect the duct from the dryer.

While the brush will allow you to pull out much of the accumulated gunk, it's best to finish up by vacuuming out any remaining loosened lint with a vacuum cleaner hose.

Although you need to clean the lint filter (part of the dryer) every time you use the dryer, the exhaust duct only needs to be cleaned twice each year—more frequently if you notice that clothes are taking longer to dry. Proper cleaning will help minimize your dryer's energy consumption.

—Zach Kyle


I've heard that cutting down on meat consumption can help reduce my carbon footprint. How much of a difference could I make by changing my diet?

We tend to think of fossil-fuel-powered cars, planes, and other vehicles as the big sources of carbon emissions. But a recent study by the University of Chicago revealed that switching from an average meat-based American diet to a vegetarian diet would reduce an individual's carbon output by 1.5 tons per year. That's even more effective than switching to a hybrid vehicle!

What accounts for this difference? First, most animals are raised on an energy-intensive corn-based diet. Growing so much corn requires staggering amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which means staggering amounts of oil. Cornell University estimates that a single corn-fed cow will indirectly consume 284 gallons of oil in its lifetime. In addition, the methane gas released by animal waste products is 23 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.

For more information on becoming a vegetarian, I recommend this site:

Even if you're not ready to go totally vegetarian, consider that the average American diet consists of 180 pounds of meat each year. That's almost half a pound every single day. By reducing your meat consumption to just a few servings per week, you can still make significant headway in reducing your carbon footprint.

—Catherine Bailey


The lists of ingredients on my cosmetics contain a lot of chemicals. Are these chemicals safe? And if not, how do I find safer options?

Cosmetics contain many ingredients that can be absorbed through the skin, ingested, or otherwise exposed to our systems. Some of these substances are harmless, but others have been shown to increase risks of cancer, birth defects, reproductive disorders, and more. Unfortunately, there are only minimal federal regulations on the use of chemicals in cosmetics, and the FDA doesn't have to approve, or even test, the ingredients found in makeup and other skin care products. They leave that up to the producers of the cosmetics.

Of the approximate 10,500 chemicals used in cosmetics, only 11 percent have been tested by the industry-funded Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel. In some cases, chemicals with confirmed dangerous properties are still included in personal care products. Some of the more dangerous include mercury, lead acetate, formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, and coal tar.

“Skin Deep,” a report by the Environmental Working Group, estimates that one-third of all personal care products contain at least one carcinogenic chemical. They also learned that the European Union has banned over 1,100 chemicals from being used in the manufacturing of personal care products, while the United States has banned just nine.

The good news is, hundreds of companies are participating in an initiative called the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics ( These companies have vowed to replace the harmful chemicals in their products with safe alternatives within three years.

Curious about the nature of the products you use? Visit for an extensive analysis of nearly every available brand.

—Catherine Bailey

Send questions to YES! But How?, 284 Madrona Way NE, Suite 116, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110 or to [email protected]

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