Foil is made from the same material as soda cans, aluminum. Since it is usually contaminated with food waste or blended with plastic to make, for instance, yogurt container tops, aluminum foil usually cannot be recycled in curbside bins. However, some curbside programs and many transfer stations and metal recyclers do accept clean foil. Check with your recycling program to confirm local aluminum foil recycling opportunities and requirements.
Find a drop-off location for aluminum foil near you using our Recycling Locator.
Why Recycle Aluminum Foil
Aluminum is one of the highest-value materials you can recycle, and it can be reprocessed into new aluminum in just 60 days. About 60% of the aluminum produced in the U.S. is recycled, which requires 90% less electricity than virgin aluminum products made from bauxite ore, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency. Stanford University reports that recycling one ton of aluminum saves 14,000 kWh of electricity, enough to light a 100-watt light bulb for 140,000 hours.
Up to 90% of aluminum cans and foil distributed in states with aggressive recycling programs are processed but other states average only 35%, according to Boston Consulting Group. Because cars and other large equipment are widely recycled, up to 75% of all the aluminum ever made in the U.S. is still in use, according to the Aluminum Association.
The Environmental Protection Agency reports that 2.7 million tons of aluminum was landfilled in 2018, the last year for which data is available. If that aluminum were recycled it would save enough energy to power 378 billion hours of light from a 100-watt bulb, enough power to provide about 1,140 hours, or 47.5 days, of lighting a year for all 331.9 million Americans, as of 2021.
Aluminum Foil Recycling Preparation
Before you visit a transfer station to drop off foil, take a moment to learn how to prepare it for successful recycling.
- Make sure that the foil is as clean as possible. While burns and holes won’t affect the recyclability of the metal, you need to remove any food residue, such as meat, fat, or sauces, from the foil. A dirty piece of foil is not recyclable.
- If foil is combined with other materials — such as in drink boxes, candy wrappers, and yogurt tops — and you can’t separate it, you’ll need to throw it away. Foil mixed with other materials, known as a composite, is considered recycling contamination because it cannot be broken down into its component elements with current technology.
- Aluminum foil is a light material that can blow and jam recycling equipment. Crumple all the foil into one ball to make it easily separated from other products.
Frequent Aluminum Foil Recycling Questions
Can I recycle aluminum foil in my curbside recycling program?
While most recycling programs will accept aluminum cans in curbside bins, they may not accept aluminum foil curbside because the risks of contamination often makes it undesirable. Make sure you verify that your local program accepts aluminum foil curbside before you put it in your bin.
What is the difference between aluminum foil and tin foil?
There is none. All foil has been made of aluminum since World War II, and the name “tin foil” is still mistakenly used to describe aluminum foil.
Can I recycle aluminum foil for money?
No. Even though it’s made from the same material as an aluminum can, which is one of the easiest items to recycle for money, aluminum foil is often contaminated with food and not worth recyclers paying for it.
Even if you find a company willing to recycle it for money, aluminum foil is so light that you’d have to collect a huge quantity to receive anything more than a few dollars. That is highly unlikely though as the risk of food contamination makes this an undesirable material.
What about aluminum pie plates and trays?
If your local recycling program accepts aluminum foil, it will most often accept other aluminum food storage products. As with the foil, you must make sure these items are thoroughly cleaned before sending them to a recycling program.
How is aluminum foil recycled?
Aluminum of all types are separated from steel using air currents in a materials recovery facility. The aluminum is crushed and baled, then sent to a metal recycler, where it is cleaned again and melted into sheets of aluminum that are ready for manufacturing aluminum cans or foil products.
Are there any states that require aluminum foil recycling?
No. While 10 states (and Guam) have container deposit laws, these only cover aluminum beverage cans. Aluminum foil is excluded.
- 3 Great Tips for Sustainable Food Storage: Consider some alternative food storage products to aluminum foil to increase your kitchen sustainability
- The End of the Tupperware Age: Choosing Safer Food Storage Containers: Safe and reusable food storage options
- The 5 Weirdest Things You Can Recycle Through TerraCycle: Mail-in company TerraCycle offers recycling for foil products you’ll have difficulty recycling at home, such as drink boxes and wine foil