Is Aluminum Foil Actually Recyclable? The Answer Is Complicated

Despite the many myths that surround aluminum foil (which is not the same as tin foil!), the product is a kitchen lifesaver. And while it seems like recycling it would be a no-brainer, the truth is actually a little more complicated than it seems.

Aluminum itself can be recycled very efficiently: Compared with making new aluminum, recycling the metal takes 90% less energy (via The Verge), and this process can go on nearly indefinitely. The Aluminum Association offers a staggering stat, claiming that in the entire history of aluminum production, only about a quarter of all that metal isn't still being used in one form or another. It also appears easier to recycle aluminum than plastic containers, which all come with number symbols whose real meanings can be hard to figure out.

However, recycling aluminum foil is a little trickier, not because of the foil itself but because of what it was used for: food. So why do some cities not let residents toss their used foil in the recycling?

The problem with recycling aluminum foil

For many recycling centers, food is a contaminant that has to be removed before the recycling process can begin (via RecycleCoach) – after all, glass may be recyclable, but your burnt-on leftovers aren't. And companies don't always want to go through the effort of separating the two: TikTok users recently expressed outrage after Starbucks' recycling was revealed to go to the same bin as the trash.

When it comes to aluminum, washing food remnants off foil is often too complicated and pricey to be worthwhile, per The Kitchn. Whether your local recycling processing center can accept aluminum foil depends on your location, and things can get super-specific: Southern Living reports that Atlanta residents can recycle foil but folks in nearby Marietta, Georgia, can't. The outlet advises checking with the city to see where to put used aluminum foil, but don't forget that you can reuse it in your own kitchen before getting rid of it. Just clean it, flatten it, and use it again for recipes like chef Michael Symon's easy grilled fish trick.