HomeGreen LivingIs Aluminum Foil Recyclable?

Is Aluminum Foil Recyclable?

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Over the last few years, the growing eco-consciousness of human beings has pushed us to consume and promote materials that are less harmful to the planet. One of these eco-friendly and easily recyclable materials is aluminum.

Is Aluminum Foil Recyclable?
Is Aluminum Foil Recyclable? Photo by Madison Inouye.

But are all products made from aluminum as eco-friendly as we assume? 

Aluminum In Products

Aluminum is the most abundantly available mineral in the Earth’s crust. It is extracted from the ore bauxite which goes through the process of refining, to convert it into usable aluminum. 

Aluminum is the second-most used metal in the world. Cars, laptops, and cans are made to a large extent from aluminum. Aluminum also finds an important use as a catalyst to produce starting materials for making medicines, fertilizers, and plastics.  

Is Aluminum Recyclable?

Considered “the most recyclable of all materials”, Aluminum is touted as 100% percent recyclable. So much so that it has been speculated that 75% of the aluminum produced in the US is still in use today! As aluminum can be recycled back to itself many times, it also forms a closed loop. 

Aluminum also has some of the fastest recycling periods. A recycled aluminum can is put back on the shelves as a new product in less than two months! However, aluminum takes about 400 years to break down naturally in landfills. 

If aluminum is incinerated, it releases toxic gases and metals into the atmosphere. The process of refining usable aluminum from bauxite is an expensive as well as energy-intensive process. Hence, recycling aluminum is the obvious choice as it is safer and uses only 5% of the energy used for producing new aluminum. 

Aluminum Foil

Did you know that aluminum foil was vital in the defense effort of World War II? Families were encouraged to save strips of the foil which they could exchange for a free entry to a movie theater during those periods!

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In the 21st century, there is no picnic without aluminum foil. Aluminum foil provides a complete barrier to moisture, light, and bacteria making it the perfect packaging material. Hence, it is used in the pharmaceutical, and food industries. It is also sometimes used to make aseptic packaging. 

Is Aluminum Foil Recyclable?

Although discarded aluminum is most valued than any other item in the recycling bin, this does not necessarily apply to aluminum foil. Which begs the question, “Is aluminum foil recyclable?” 

There are a few reasons why aluminum foil might not be accepted by your recycling unit or would be discarded if sent for recycling. 

To increase the chances of collection and recovery by a recycling facility, aluminum foil needs to be completely clean. As aluminum foil is used mainly for food packaging, most aluminum foil has food particles stuck to it. This can be extremely difficult to remove and so will not be properly recycled. If not cleaned properly, it would contaminate the rest of the recyclable materials making it more costly and cumbersome to remove the damage it caused. Hence the foil must be completely free of food and grease if it has to be recycled.

As aluminum reacts with air, it gets oxidized and loses its properties as a metal. As there is more surface area to volume ratio in aluminum foil, it is particularly susceptible to oxidization. If there is food stuck to the foil, it burdens the oxidization problem as it needs to be burnt to remove the food, which stimulates further oxidization. 

How To Make Your Used Aluminum Foil Recyclable? 

If you put your aluminum foil in a recycling container, they get sent to a materials recovery facility where the foil and aluminum trays will be sorted with aluminum cans. They are then shipped to a recycler to be made into new cans or trays. To recycle your aluminum foil, you have to first ensure that your local hauler or municipality accepts aluminum foil as some facilities don’t.

If you are sure that they are accepted by your hauler, you would need to rinse and clean them before putting them in the recycling bin. After you clean it, you could also reuse it a couple of times for various purposes before you discard it. 

An Alternative Method To Recycle Aluminum Foil

Your greasy aluminum foils may not be accepted by your usual recycling facility, but there could be another way to save this foil and upcycle it into something of value. Remember we mentioned that aluminum catalysts play a vital role in making plastics, medicines, and fertilizers? A new method for recovering aluminum from dirty foil has been discovered by chemists in Ireland. They found an easy way to make aluminum catalysts by dissolving used aluminum foil in hydrochloric acid. This makes making alumina catalysts much cheaper and faster with less than half the cost of the commercial catalyst. It would also work with foil covered in food as it could be easily separated by filtration from the acid bath. 

Aluminum Foil In Incinerators

If aluminum packaging enters the incineration recovery process, it can be recovered from the incinerator bottom ashes. A minimum of 40% of the aluminum foil sent to incinerators is available for recovery and increases to 80% recovery for thicker aluminum packaging. However, landfills and not incinerators are usually where most of our domestic waste ends up. Incineration also gives out toxic fumes. Hence, aluminium would be much safer to recycle or reuse than to recover using incineration. 

Reusing Before Recycling

There are some ways you could reuse this aluminum foil so that you make sure it has lived a full life before being bid it adieu. Here are a few of them you could find a use for in your daily life:

  • Your garden plants can be protected from pests if foil is wrapped around as a collar around their base. The shiny foil repels many insects.
  • Use folded foil as a wobble wedge or shim for a table that’s not sturdy 
  • You can sharpen the edges of your scissors by folding aluminum foil into a square and cutting it 8-10 times.
  • Cleaning grease from the stovetop or grill just gets easier if you scrunch up your used foil and scrub instead of getting new steel wool scrub
  • Laying silverware on aluminum foil slows its deterioration. It can also be used in a combination with baking soda and water to help the silverware to get shiny when tarnished. 
  • If you don’t like your clothes coming out from the dryer with static, just put a piece of foil into the dryer when you dry your clothes.
  • A great camping companion- you could wrap just about anything to make it rain-proof. Think matches, food, or even clothes.

The versatility of aluminum foil makes it easy to use in many day-to-day chores. Make sure you use it a few fair times before tossing it in the recycling bin. Another change you could make is to try to buy aluminum foil that is made of recycled aluminum!

In Europe, the average rate of recycling aluminum packaging alone is 65%. If we set our minds to it, this rate can be made to 100% all over the world. These suggestions we provided can be followed to make sure that the foil you used is recycled and back in the system very many times.

References

https://etem.com/blog/aluminium-the-second-most-used-metal-in-the-world

https://livegreen.recyclebank.com/14-little-known-ways-to-reuse-aluminum-foil

https://livegreen.recyclebank.com/column/because-you-asked/is-aluminum-foil-recyclable

https://www.alufoil.org/en/sustainability/recycling-and-recovery.html

https://www.aluminum.org/industries/production/recycling

https://www.aluminum.org/product-markets/foil-packaging#:~:text=Buyer’s%20Guide-,Aluminum%20foil%20provides%20a%20complete%20barrier%20to%20light%2C%20oxygen%2C%20moisture,used%20to%20make%20aseptic%20packaging.

https://www.dakotavalleyrecycling.org/curbside/quick-guide-how-to-recycle-aluminum-foil

https://www.forbes.com/sites/samlemonick/2017/06/23/a-better-way-to-recycle-dirty-aluminum-foil/?sh=19e89a8f1e2c

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Anamika Menon
Anamika is a freelance writer specializing in environment and sustainability. She is also a master’s student in Forest Sciences and seeks to educate people about environmental issues in her free time.

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