Have you ever wondered about the properties of the foil used to keep food warm? Yes, I am talking about aluminum foil. It is a widely used product for keeping your food warm. Well, this material surely conducts electricity but can it undergo the process of recycling?
Today our planet earth is heavily wounded by global warming and climate change. In such a time of depleting resources, we must try to recycle everything we can. Recycling helps you save resources which in turn helps to save the mother Earth.
Can you recycle aluminum foil? Yes, aluminum foil is recyclable if it is clean and not contaminated from food scraps stuck in it. Although aluminum is 100% recyclable, the aluminum foil contaminated with oil, grease, and organic products are not recycled, but evolving technologies have allowed us to recycle them to some extent.
Why do you think recyclable products mixed with organic products are usually not recycled? How could you know that the aluminum foil could be recycled or not? Can we reuse it? Why do you think we even recycle it? So many questions have been raised already.
Hang tight and stay with us till the end to know what small steps you can take to save mother earth. But before that, let’s dive into what is aluminum foil and how it is produced?
What is Aluminum Foil?
Aluminum foil is a thin sheet of aluminum produced by rolling slabs of the aluminum cast from molten aluminum in a rolling mill, which presses it into desired thickness.
Did you know that aluminum is the third most abundant element on Earth? We obtain aluminum from its ore called bauxite.
These ores contain a lot of impurities along with pure aluminum. However, refining the ore allows us to get pure aluminum oxide, known as alumina.
The alumina is then charged with an electrical current to extract the metal, aluminum. This process of charging the oxide that lets us extract the pure metal is referred to as electrolytic reduction.
Aluminum is used to produce many alloys so that its characteristic properties are imparted into the metal alloy. It finds its uses and applications in a variety of industries.
How is Aluminum Foil Produced?
As we’ve seen above, aluminum foil is mostly produced by using pure aluminum.
Today, due to advancements in technologies and discoveries of new methods of production in recent years, many kinds of aluminum alloys are used to make the foil stronger while also reducing the thickness of the aluminum foil.
These aluminum alloys are melted, poured onto a cast, and then passed through rollers, resulting in large sheets of aluminum foil. This rolling process is very important as it determines the thickness of the foil.
The rolling process is repeated until you reach the desired level of thickness. Now, what can be the factors responsible for achieving the desired level of thickness?
The crucial factors that determine the thickness of the foil are rolling oils, roll pressure, and mil speed.
After reaching the desired level of thickness for the aluminum foil, it is rolled around large stock coils.
Then, the foil is cut into smaller pieces from the large spools and coiled around smaller cardboard spools. It is these cardboard spools that are widely available in the market.
Can you really Recycle Aluminum Foil?
As mentioned earlier, aluminum is a metal that is 100 percent recyclable material. Today aluminum cans, generally used for cold drinks and sodas, can all be recycled.
Did you know that the highest rate of recycling of any beverage container in the USA is aluminum containers?
This recycling rate is a lot higher than plastic and glass. It takes about 60 days for recycled cans to get back on the store shelves from the recycling bin.
But what about aluminum foil? Well, they can be recycled at the same rate as aluminum cans, but many recycling facilities don’t accept aluminum foil.
It is because they don’t have the equipment to recycle it. You might be wondering that what special equipment could be required if the same recycling facilities can recycle aluminum cans?
The difference between recycling aluminum cans and aluminum foil is that the foil contains food residues, food scraps while the recycling equipment can not have such contaminants.
Food scraps and residues will clog the entire equipment for recycling the cans.
Aluminum foil is mostly used in small amounts to wrapping food inside it, keep it warm and protected. Wrapping up of food also results in the foil being contaminated by oil and grease.
These contaminants can damage the recycling equipment. Therefore, most aluminum foils end up in landfills.
Did you know that in the UK, almost 20,000 tonnes of aluminum foil is wasted each year? Does it mean that aluminum foil cannot be recycled?
Don’t worry; a method has been developed to recycle the contaminated aluminum foils. Most of them are thrown away right after their use.
The latest technique of recycling Aluminum Foil
This new technique of recycling aluminum foil involves the process of crystallization.
Before delving into this new technique, let’s talk about crystallization. What is it?
The process of crystallization involves the transformation of a liquid solution into a solid crystalline state.
Crystallization is a widely used process in various industries because it helps in the separation and purification of different substances.
In recycling facilities, crystallization is carried out to obtain crystals of pure aluminum salt from the contaminated and used foil. The production of pure crystals of aluminum salt, called alumina, will allow it to be used as a biofuel catalyst.
Did you know that crystallized alumina is much purer than its commercial counterpart?
If this process of crystallization is carried out widely, then tonnes of aluminum foil can be prevented from reaching landfills and polluting the environment.
Additionally, it will also prevent the damage caused due to mining the bauxite ore.
But since this process is not widely used, how can you know whether the aluminum foil used can be recycled or not? Let’s find out.
How do you know if you can recycle the foil?
In order to find out whether you can recycle aluminum foil, you first need to know about all the recycling facilities around you.
It depends on whether the recycling facilities would accept your unwanted aluminum foil or not.
Many recycling programs take in wasted aluminum foil and trays unless they are heavily soiled. In many places, there are even guidelines for sending unwanted aluminum foil for recycling.
Read on to know more about how you can prepare aluminum foil for recycling.
How to prepare the foil for recycling?
Isn’t it amusing that you need to do some sort of preparation before sending off the unwanted aluminum foil for recycling?
Well, it was mentioned earlier that the contaminants present along with the foil might clog the recycling machines and finally damage them.
Therefore, recycling facilities do not accept heavily soiled materials. Preparing the foil increases the chances of it getting recycled.
The simple way of preparing it for recycling is just to clean it. If you use aluminum foil, then you know that it is non-porous. You can simply rinse the foil-like any other item like dishes.
And if the foil has been contaminated too heavily, you have no choice but to tear away that contaminated part and then rinse the rest of it.
NYSDEC’s way of preparing aluminum foil for recycling
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation or NYSDEC has recommended an interesting way of preparing the aluminum foil for recycling.
For instance, you could have used and reused the foil several times, and it has reached a worn-out stage. Don’t worry; you can still prepare it for recycling.
The NYSDEC has declared that for foils like that, you just need to clean up the remaining residues, wait for it to totally dry up, and then roll it into balls. You can combine a single ball with other balls of aluminum foil until it’s of significant size.
This process ensures that all the smaller pieces present in the balls don’t separate while recycling the foil.
After preparing the foil for recycling, you can simply put it in the yellow recycling bin along with other recyclable products like plastic bottles and cans. You must also check with the municipality guidelines for recycling aluminum.
Reusing Aluminum Foil
Have you ever wondered about giving your used aluminum foils a second life?
You can absolutely use your unwanted aluminum foil in the following amusing ways:
1. Covering pans and dishes: Once you have rinsed and cleaned unwanted aluminum foil, you can reuse it to cover pans, dishes, and other containers. You can simply flatten it out and use it.
2. Sharpening your scissors: You can even sharpen your scissors with used aluminum foils. How? Well, you need to first fold up a single piece of foil several times into several layers.
Then cut through the layers a number of times with your blunt scissors to sharpen it.
3. Keeping your oven clean: Used aluminum foils can help you to keep your oven clean while baking or cooking anything.
You need to place that used aluminum foil on the rack below what you’re making. This will prevent any spills on the oven floor and will make it easy for you to clean up.
4. Making craft products: With aluminum foil, you can create origami and any DIY projects. It’s such an interesting way of making use of used aluminum foil. You can surely dive into these crafts!
As we come to an end to this article, we realize that even if aluminum is 100 percent recyclable, the recyclability of aluminum foil depends on its level of cleanliness.
We also explored different methods of preparing aluminum foil for recycling. You can even reuse it in a number of interesting ways and even have fun with it.
You must realize that throwing aluminum foil away is not the first option. You should always try to find ways of reusing and recycling it. Although you cannot recycle it in your home, you can prepare it to be recycled.
Always remember that the yellow dustbin is the wastebasket for recyclable products. So, keep an eye on those yellow bins and take a small step towards a greener future!