Cans, furniture and other products made from aluminum are very easy to recycle. In fact, aluminum and other metals are among the easiest items to recycle because they can be melted and turned back into new products almost indefinitely. It is highly energy and resource intensive to create new aluminum, so it is definitely worth recycling the metal whenever possible. One of the biggest departures from the “aluminum is easy to recycle” rule is aluminum foil. The main challenge to recycling aluminum foil is that it is often contaminated with food waste. Grease and oils can damage recycling equipment and create an inferior end product, so food-affected waste has to be thrown away (all that food will also cause the foil to smell really bad, which will make the staff at your local recycling center very unhappy). Some communities accept aluminum foil in their recycling bins as long as it is clean. Others are not willing to take that risk. We have some advice for dedicated recyclers who really want to keep their aluminum foil out of landfills. We also share a couple of ways to decrease your use of aluminum foil.
How is aluminum foil made?Aluminum foil is made of sheets of aluminum that are rolled very, very thin. Those sheets are wound onto a cardboard tube and stored in a cardboard box until you are ready to use them. The vast majority of aluminum foil manufactured in the United States is used to wrap food at home or in food service. Here a few fun facts about aluminum foil from the Aluminum Association:
- It was used in candy wrappers as early as 1913, when Life Savers were wrapped in sheets of foil.
- About 7 billion containers of aluminum foil are produced every year. That equals 220 containers every second.
- Aluminum is a great conductor of heat. If you cover a pan with aluminum foil and leave it in the oven for a long time, the foil will cool much faster than glass or steel once you pull the pan out of the oven. That makes it easy to pull back a corner to check on your food – although, then you have to be careful of hot steam.
- Aluminum foil is great in the kitchen, but it is also used in insulation, electronics and for art and decorative purposes.