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Aluminum Foil Recycling (5 Must-Know Tips for Work)

aluminum foil recycling

Are your foil recycling practices up to date at work? Aluminum is everywhere, but nowhere is it more common than the average employee’s lunchbox. Even the foil from your CEO’s pastrami sandwich has, at some point, found its way into your workplace recycling stream.

According to the Aluminum Association, this precious metal is among the most valuable and recyclable materials known to humanity. It forms a perfect closed loop and can be recycled – endlessly – forever! Some 75% of all products made from aluminum are recycled in the US.

But what about foil? Recycling this tricky type of aluminum is not so straightforward. Here are 5 must-know tips that will help you optimize the way you recycle aluminum foil at work this year.

#1: Teach Employees That Foil is Recyclable

What is aluminum foil anyway? Most of your employees will know that foil is potentially recyclable, but because they aren’t sure of the composition (foil sheets, or pans, or packaging) they may decide to dispose of it in your workplace trash can. And tin foil is not biodegradable.

A single American throws away roughly three pounds of foil every year. If it reaches the landfill, it will take approximately 400 years to break-down through the oxidation process. Worse still, if it’s burnt it contributes to toxic air pollution and releases harmful gasses into our atmosphere.

#2: Contaminated Tin Foil Can’t Be Recycled

Clean tin foil is magically recyclable forever – until it comes into contact with your lunch. Because foil recycling relies on clean materials, your employees can’t just ball up their foil and throw it in the recycling bin at work. Once the foil is contaminated with food waste, it stops being viable.

If enough contaminated foil gets into your stream, it has the potential to ruin every other material in that load. This means none of it can be recycled, so the entire process is rendered null and void. Educate your employees about clean tin foil recycling to prevent contamination at work.

Here is why workplace recycling education is so vital.

#3: Start a Tin Foil Reuse and Recycle Program

The good news is that you’re not powerless against the food contamination making its way into your canteen. Your green team can start an amazing foil recycling initiative to encourage employees to wash their foil packaging, sheets, and pans before adding them to your recycling bins.

Tin foil programs are part of the ‘reuse’ initiatives that inspire employees to either take their foil home to be washed (most types are dishwasher safe!) and reused as an infinitely better alternative to plastic. Aluminum packaging is strong and can be used repeatedly – then it can be recycled.

Tin foil trays that are empty

#4: Get Creative About Reusing Foil at Work

Aluminum foil recycling is the final step in the lifecycle of your foil (before it becomes another aluminum product). The goal of sustainability for your green team is to keep the recyclable material in play as long as it’s useful, and to only recycle it once it has no more use at the office.

Tin foil has an enormous range of uses that you can take advantage of at work. It polishes silverware, cleans grills, scrubs dishes, sharpens scissors, improves radiator efficiency, and reflects light in a sun box for office plants. Find ways to lengthen its lifespan as part of your tin foil reuse program.

#5: Think Big When It Comes to Impact

Once your green team has established the protocols for your aluminum foil recycling and reuse program – you can think about extending it to expand your impact. Other companies in your area or niche will have similar problems. Perhaps recycling contaminated foil has reduced their recycling impact or motivated them to start an initiative of their own.

Office lunches in tin foil containers

Your team can be the spark that helps other companies institute their own aluminum initiatives. Host green team talks and share your experience running campaigns at work. Show other teams how much of a difference can be made when small changes become a part of your workplace culture. Together you can make foil recycling just as common as can recycling in your area.

These 5 must-know tips will help you improve the level of education about aluminum foil and the ways it can be recycled. If every workplace bands together to take extra-care of the materials that have a truly closed loop, we stand to benefit from less resource consumption, less pollution and an abundance of recycling materials that can be refashioned into products made for sale.

Right now, aluminum cans are the easiest to recycle – but we want to challenge your green team to start tackling the products that aren’t so easy. This year, set a goal to make foil recycling a regular practice among your employees, and eventually, as a part of daily practice in every workplace.

Ask us about our custom educational programs.

What type of aluminum do you recycle most at work? Tell us below.


  1. Alice Carroll

    November 4, 2021 at 11:17 pm

    Thanks for the reminder that I should make sure that the materials isn’t contaminated when planning to get aluminum recycling services. I’d like to know more about different kinds of recycling methods because I’d like to start being mindful of the waste my household is producing. I think reducing that will be very helpful in the long run.

  2. Burkley Allen

    November 14, 2021 at 9:01 am

    My city recycling program says that we can’t recycle aluminum foil, even if it is clean. I have been told that it is too thin, and it burns up rather than melting in the process. Where can I get more information on the actual recycling process?

    • April

      November 16, 2021 at 11:08 am

      Each recycling facility has different machinery to process materials, therefor some may use more intense equipment that cannot handle aluminum foil but may be able to still accept more rigid foil containers. You could call your actual program to see how their specific equipment works. Occasionally some facilities will even give tours!

  3. Gill Bates

    November 19, 2021 at 12:19 pm

    How do we find a company to take our recycled aluminium foil?

  4. Alice Carroll

    October 10, 2022 at 6:54 am

    Thanks for the reminder that I should also be mindful of the programs in place when looking for the right aluminum recycling center. I’d like to look for one soon because I want to start decluttering my old garage soon. That’s where I dumped most of the scrap metal that I had over the years.

  5. put

    November 27, 2022 at 11:18 pm

    Very interesting article

  6. christine

    December 13, 2022 at 9:12 am

    Wondering about the foil that wraps a brick of Velveeta cheese

    • April

      December 15, 2022 at 10:21 am

      The issue with that foil would be that it would definitely be quite dirty from the cheese. If you were to get it completely clean, it seems like a thicker foil than typical, so it may have some sort of lining. You can check directly with your recycling program to see if they would accept it, but when in doubt, throw it out.

  7. Steve

    January 19, 2023 at 5:43 pm

    I wouldn’t have expected to call aluminum baking pans “foil” so I’m surprised that they can’t be melted down. I get about 16 of them a week in my meal plan.

    • April

      January 23, 2023 at 7:09 am

      Aluminum baking pans can be recycled in many areas, but they must be empty and clean. So it’s important to make sure food residue is gone. This article is making the point that these types of pans are very good to reuse several times instead of tossing after one use. Make sure to check with your local recycling program to make sure they are accepted before tossing them in your bin.

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