How to recycle aluminum foil properly
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Foiled Again: Our Quick Guide to Recycling Aluminum Foil Properly

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Jun. 9 2021, Published 4:44 p.m. ET

There is an assumption that just because aluminum foil is made from essentially the same material as soda cans, that it is just as easy to recycle. And while this might be true in some ways, foil is very rarely recycled, because it's often contaminated with food, leading people to think it's not recyclable. So, we're here to show you how to recycle aluminum foil properly.

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How to prepare aluminum foil for recycling

You may not think that recyclables need any sort of preparation before throwing them in the bin, but you’d be wrong. According to The Kitchn, many regular curbside recycling programs do accept aluminum foil and trays along with other aluminum products. However, recycling centers cannot accept any items that are too heavily soiled, because the food particles can wreak havoc on the machinery of your average recycling facility.

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The proper way to prepare your tin foil for recycling is to clean it. Because foil is non-porous, it can be flattened out and rinsed like any other kitchen item. Even once it has been crumpled, foil is still pretty usable to wrap leftovers or cover bowls. Now, some stuck-on messes aren’t exactly salvageable — and with those messes, there’s not much you can do but tear the dirty part away and throw it out.

For all the rest of your old foil, here’s a trick courtesy of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC). If you have used and reused it enough times for it to be considered worn out, then the best way to prep it is to clean off any remaining debris, let it dry, roll it into a ball, and combine that ball with other pieces of foil until it's a significant size. This will ensure the smaller pieces don’t fall off and get stuck during the recycling process.

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Then, simply put it in the recycling bin with your bottle and cans. You’ll have to check with your local municipality for the specific rules and regulations as they pertain to recycling aluminum, of course. If they don’t accept it, check out Earth911’s handy recycling locator to find a place near you that does.

Rolls of industrial aluminum foil
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Why recycle aluminum foil?

Aluminum foil is useful for many things, such as food preparation and storage, packaging and packing, insulation, dyeing hair, and building materials. The problem is, tin foil has become so ubiquitous that most see it as utterly disposable. So disposable, in fact, that you could build an aircraft fleet with the amount that Americans throw away each year.

The good news is that we needn’t be tossing all of it into a landfill. According to Earth911, aluminum is both highly-reusable and quite valuable in terms of recycling. Approximately 75 percent of the aluminum produced in the U.S. is still being used today. Not only that, but recycled aluminum can be turned into new aluminum in only 60 days.

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Is aluminum foil eco-friendly?

Aluminum foil is certainly a better choice than, say, plastic wrap, at least in terms of reusability and recyclability. Unfortunately, according to Green Living Detective, you’d have to reuse the same piece of foil six times for it to come out on top of plastic wrap — which shouldn't be too difficult, considering how easy it is to rinse off a piece of foil.

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In addition, the mining and manufacturing process gives aluminum foil a larger environmental impact than plastic in almost every metric, including fossil fuel usage, greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, and impact on human health, according to Slate.

The good news is, single-use aluminum foil and plastic wrap aren't the only options in the kitchen. For cooking, opt for reusable silicone baking mats, or simply don't line your baking sheet at all. For covering a bowl of leftovers, you can opt for compostable parchment paper, tin foil that you reuse at least six times, a reusable wax wrap, balance a plate on top of the bowl, or just use a reusable container instead.

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