Is Aluminum Foil Recyclable?

Ball of Aluminum Foil on White Background
Photo: Getty/ImagePixel

Here's a question for you: After you make your favorite foil dinner, what do you do with the foil? Do you throw it in the trash? Or do you recycle it? We all try to do the right thing for the planet, but sometimes it's hard to know what the right thing is, especially when it comes to aluminum foil.

Check In With Your Recycling Service

While aluminum cans are almost universally accepted in recycling bins, foil is a bit tricky. For example, The Tennessean reports that when it comes to foil or aluminum baking trays, there is "not enough aluminum in it to recycle." However, in Houston and El Paso it is encouraged to put aluminum trays and foil in the recycling bin. Just because foil is recyclable in one city doesn't mean it extends to every other city in that state, though. For instance, foil is recyclable in Atlanta, but not in Marietta, Georgia; similarly, it's recyclable in Fairfax, Virginia, but not Richmond. Confusing, right?

The takeaway is that it's always a good idea to check what your local recycling processing center will accept before you chuck it in the recycling bin. If you don't confirm, you may be filling the recycling bin with trash, potentially contaminating what is recyclable and making the whole effort moot. Luckily, it's easy to check thanks to Earth911's Recycling Locator. Just type in your zip code and it will tell you what can and cannot be recycled.

crumpled aluminum foil
Aluminum can be recycled over and over again without any loss of quality.

MirageC / Getty Images 

Be Sure Your Aluminum Foil Is Clean

The one thing everyone can agree on is that, when foil is recyclable, it must be clean and free of food residue. So rinse it clean of any food debris before putting it in the recycling bin. Otherwise, most recycling centers won't be able to accept it as foil contaminated with food or grease residue can contaminate other recyclables during the recycling process.

That said, once you clean the foil and flatten it out, why not use it a second time to cover a bowl or use in the oven or air fryer? If you can get it clean (maybe try chucking it in the dishwasher?), you might as well reuse it and put off that decision about recycling as long as possible.

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What About Foil That Is Part Of Packaging?

Let's say you want to try and recycle aluminum foil is part of a package. This could be yogurt containers, drink containers or other miscellaneous grocery items. If the items are attached to that container and cannot be separated, even if they all are recyclable, they are considered contaminated. These items cannot be processed at a recycling facility.

If the materials can be separated, ensure it is all clean. Anything that is viable for recycling can be put in your recycling bin or taken to a recycling center. If foil cannot be separated from other materials, into the garbage it goes.

MirageC/Getty Images

How To Accumulate Foil And Then Recycle

Once you have your foil clean, create your recycling ball. If sheets of aluminum foil catch a breeze, they can blow away easily. As you get more recyclable aluminum, add it to your ball. The folks at RecycleNation advise that it needs to be at least 2 inches in diameter. Single, small balls of aluminum foil can tear and get caught in the machinery at the processing center.

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