How to Recycle Aluminum Foil

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Some sources say that you can’t recycle aluminum foil because of the food that might be attached to it. Others say you can. It really depends on two factors. One, does your local recycling program accept aluminum foil? Two, are you willing to spend a few extra minutes cleaning your foil so it can be recycled?

The first step is to find out if your local recycling program accepts aluminum foil. While the foil itself is 100% recyclable, food and other contaminates can make it difficult to actually recycle. Additionally, some programs will sell the materials to a metals recycler. Any impurities (such as food) mixed in with the metal will create a weight discrepancy and will reduce the price of the material. Some programs will take any foil. Others will only accept foil that is clean first. And some refuse to take foil at all. Only place items that your program accepts into the containers, even if you think they SHOULD accept it. Unwanted material could damage equipment and just makes the whole process less efficient. Find other ways to reuse materials that are not accepted.

You’ll have to be a little more ingenious if your local program doesn’t accept aluminum foil. One option is to look for another program nearby that does take foil. Wait until you have enough recycling to justify the time, fuel, and expense of driving there. Another option is to contact local private scrap dealers. There is a possibility that they will buy it from you. Unfortunately, you might have to save up several pounds of scrap aluminum before they will purchase any. Don’t expect to make a lot of money though.

Step two is to prepare the foil for recycling. Usually all that is required is a quick rinse to get rid of any food particles. If your local program requires clean foil then you might have to scrub it gently with a little soap. Don’t be afraid of throwing out the foil if you feel it’s just too contaminated. When that happens I try to think about how I could have done things differently. Perhaps a more durable, reusable option would have been better. Think of it as a problem-solving opportunity.

What about products that have aluminum foil bonded to paper or plastic? These are more difficult to recycle and most recycling programs won’t take them. The best you can do is to just not buy products with this kind of packaging.

Recycling your used aluminum foil produces some very real benefits, both for our shared environment and for you personally. First, it takes 95% less energy to convert recycled aluminum into pure aluminum than it does to convert bauxite ore into pure aluminum (Earth 911). To visualize how much energy you save, one recycled aluminum can (approximately 14 grams or 0.5 oz of metal) saves enough energy to run a TV for 3 hours or the equivalent of half a gallon of gasoline (A Recycling Revolution). Second, there is no limit to how many times aluminum products can be recycled. The aluminum doesn’t degrade in the process. The end product is always pure aluminum that can then be used to make more products. Third, some places will pay you for your unwanted aluminum. Sure, municipal recycling programs won’t pay but if you have a lot of waste aluminum on hand it could be worth your while to contact a few scrap business.

Be sure to check out my articles on the environmental and health issues with aluminum foil and other solutions to the aluminum foil problem.

Resources

A Recycling Revolution – http://www.recycling-revolution.com

Earth 911 – http://earth911.com/recycling/metal/aluminum-foil/facts-about-aluminum-foil/

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