Plastic Wrap Vs Aluminum Foil: Which Is More Eco-Friendly?

Plastic wrap and aluminum foil aren't quite interchangeable (after all, aluminum foil is oven-safe, while plastic wrap isn't), but you probably use them in a few similar ways. Both are good for preserving leftovers in the fridge, or for covering food on your counter, like a pan of brownies. For the instances when either plastic wrap or aluminum foil would work, you probably want to use whichever one is better for the environment. But when you compare the two, which is ultimately more eco-friendly?

As Slate reports, aluminum foil seems like the obvious choice; sometimes it can be rinsed and reused, whereas plastic wrap is one-and-done and immediately ends up in the trash. Not to mention everyone's heard about plastic polluting the oceans and sitting in landfills for decades without decomposing.

While aluminum foil might be a little easier to reuse, however, it's a lot more costly for the environment to manufacture. When you compare the manufacturing process for aluminum foil to that of plastic wrap, aluminum foil is almost always the loser. It uses more fossil fuels, emits more greenhouse gases, and has a higher potential for water pollution, among other factors.

How plastic wrap compares to aluminum foil

According to HuffPost, if you compare how long the two hang around landfills, aluminum foil seems better — it'll only last 500 years, compared to plastic wrap's 1,000. Mining aluminum is less eco-friendly, however, especially if you don't reuse the foil. Making one foot of plastic wrap uses about 30 percent of the energy of making the same amount of aluminum foil, and it also only creates about 10 percent of the emissions that the foil process does. If you don't want to give up foil entirely, reusing the same piece four times makes its environmental impact comparable to plastic wrap.

As SFGate notes, the most eco-friendly choice is avoiding both when you can. Try to use glass containers that you can wash and reuse before you reach for the foil or plastic wrap for saving leftovers. You can also find reusable covers for pans and bowls for leftovers that can largely replace both plastic wrap and aluminum foil. While plastic wrap might be a little better for the earth than foil, reusable containers and covers are the best choice for the environment.