Can You Recycle Aluminum Foil?

Ah, aluminum foil, everybody’s favorite kitchen helper. With this shiny stuff backing us up, both cooking and general food management is so, so much easier.

But once it has served its purpose, what do you do with it? Do you throw it in the trash, or do you pop it in your recycling bin?

Can You Recycle Aluminum Foil?

We’re all aware that most metals are recyclable, but being that aluminum foil is so dang malleable and exceedingly commonplace, there’s a perceived dislocation between it and more robust metallic objects.

It’s this disconnect that leaves you wondering whether aluminum foil can be recycled, or if it’s a typical throw-away item.

Well, wonder no more, friend! In this article, I’m going to be breaking down all the necessary information pertaining to aluminum foil, recycling, and environmental issues surrounding this common kitchen chum.

So, Is Aluminum Foil Recyclable?

We’ve got a bunch of areas to cover here, but let’s cut to the chase and then elaborate after the fact. Can aluminum foil be recycled? Drum roll, please… YES!

That’s right, aluminum foil is absolutely recyclable, just like its more sturdy metal cousins.

In fact, it’s considered an exceedingly recyclable material, as it doesn’t take much effort to break it down and repurpose it.

Good news all round, ay? Well… kind of. There are some limitations to consider when you’re deciding whether to Kobe that B-ball of aluminum into the garbage can or the recycling storage.

When Shouldn’t You Recycle Your Aluminum Foil?

How do you use aluminum foil?

In my household, it was primarily used to cover grill shelves and baking trays to prevent the seepage from foodstuffs leaking onto them and creating a cleanup from hell situation.

However, it’s this taking of the food bullet for our cooking equipment that prevents us from truly “greenifying” our aluminum foil.

You see, if there’s a bunch of grease, sauce, and crispy food crumbs attached to the foil, it cannot be recycled. All these sticky scraps are considered soiling.

It’s similar to how you can’t recycle paper bags if they’ve been exposed to certain things, such as raw meat.

Is There A Way Around Aluminum Foil Soiling?

When I learned that you can’t recycle aluminum foil with food residue on it, the first thing I did was stop using it to coat my cooking equipment.

Does it mean I have to spend an extra 5 minutes washing up after cooking a meal? Yes, but it also means any foil I use during my culinary exploits is safe to be recycled — woo!

But changing the way you incorporate aluminum foil in your daily life isn’t the only way you can boost the eco-factor of this handy little helper.

Although some of the food residue can be quite difficult to remove from foil, if you soak it in some warm, soapy water, and give it a gentle wash, it almost always comes right off.

You can then scrunch it up into a shiny ball and dunk it into your recycling disposal!

What About Particularly Small Pieces Of Aluminum Foil?

Can You Recycle Aluminum Foil?

Aluminum foil isn’t just found in roles in our kitchens, it’s used in several ways.

For instance, those yogurt lids you’re always lickin’ before tucking into the bulk of the snack, they’re made from aluminum foil.

So, can you recycle these little bits and bobs you’ll find as part of the packaging of your favorite foodie treats? The answer is a resounding yes!

But there’s something you should know before you start collecting every last lick of foil around and throwing it in the recycling.

Recycling plants use a lot of machinery in the sorting and recycling process, and their sensors work much better when dealing with larger objects, so before you pop all your little strips of foil in your recycling, it makes sense to crumple them all up together into a giant aluminum meteor.

Well… I say giant meteor, but as soon as it gets to around tennis ball size, you’re good to go.

Is All Aluminum Foil Recyclable?

If your aluminum foil is genuinely aluminum foil and not some strange plasticky imposter, then you can definitely recycle it. And yes, plasticky imposter aluminum is an actual thing.

This stuff is essentially just a sheet of plastic that has been metalized to give it the appearance of aluminum foil.

The good news is that there’s a foolproof test you can do to figure out if you’ve got a fugazi or the real deal. To find the truth, simply scrunch your foil up.

If it holds its scrunched shape, then it’s 100% genuine aluminum foil. If it tries to expand back to its original form, it’s an imposter, and it cannot be recycled.

Is Recycling Aluminum Foil Good For The Environment?

I know that with all the cleaning of kitchen equipment and the cleaning of the foil itself, recycling aluminum foil sounds like a lot of extra effort in our already busy lives, but it’s absolutely worth it, I promise.

Recycling aluminum foil is fantastic for the environment, and here’s why…

  • No new materials necessary — Aluminum foil can be recycled directly into thousands of other objects without the addition of any new materials, saving on tons of resources.
  • Aluminum foil is not biodegradable — It takes roughly 800 years for aluminum foil to oxidize and break down in a landfill, and during that time, it could release toxins into the air and the earth.
  • Saves tons of energy — You can recycle aluminum foil with just 5% of the energy it takes to form new foil.

Final Thoughts

In summation, you can totally recycle your aluminum foil, but it has to be nice and clean, so if it has food remains on, give it a brief soak, a gentle scrub, then ball it up, and throw it in the recycling rather than the garbage can. 

Don’t sweat it if you have to throw the odd bit of aluminum foil in the trash. Nobody’s perfect, and sometimes the foil will simply be too far gone to salvage.

It’s all just about doing what you can, when you can. It all makes a difference, no matter how small.

So, whenever possible, recycle that foil of yours. You’ll be doing the planet a big, BIG favor!

Jenna Bates
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