Aluminum (or aluminium) is a versatile metal that has many uses. Aluminum foil is one of the most common uses of aluminum and is typically used for cooking and wrapping food.
Tons of aluminum are used every year around the world. So, is aluminum biodegradable and what effect is its usage having on our natural environment?
What is Aluminum Foil?
Aluminum foil or tin foil is a product that you will find in almost every home you visit.
It makes a great material for covering food for later consumption and protecting food from getting stuck to baking and oven trays.
Aluminum foil is simply aluminium cut into thin sheets (less than 0.2mm thick) which are malleable and can easily be bent to shape without tearing.
Is Aluminum Foil Biodegradable?
No, aluminum foil is not biodegradable.
Aluminium will slowly break down over time due to oxidation (rust) but this process can take hundreds of years.
Oxidation is not the same as biodegradation which is the consumption of a material by bacteria and microorganisms.
How Long Does It Take Aluminum Foil to Break Down?
Even though aluminum foil isn’t biodegradable, it will eventually break down.
Most sources suggest that aluminium foil will take anywhere from 100 to 500 years to break down while in the natural environment. This period of time can be influenced by factors such as wind and rain.
Greater levels of humidity will completion the oxidation process faster.
Is Aluminum Foil Eco Friendly?
Aluminum foil is derived from aluminium, a metal alloy produced by smelting bauxite ore. Both the mining process and the smelting process are damaging to the environment due to the pollution these processes emit.
Once used, aluminum foil is usually thrown into the bin.
These two factors reduce the sustainability of aluminum foil as it’s a material that is produced at great cost and then thrown away where it ends up in landfill.
There is the potential for aluminum foil to lower the soil nutrient levels in any area it is dumped in. This can negatively affect the growth of plants and the health of animals that feed near these areas.
Animals can also consume aluminum foil which can lead to health problems and potentially death.
Aluminum foil could be more sustainable if it were recycled. The problem is that this foil is typically soiled during use which makes recycling it difficult.
Can You Recycle Aluminum Foil?
Aluminum foil is 100% recyclable.
The problem is that many recycling centers will not accept aluminum foil because it usually contains food waste that will contaminate the recycling process.
We suggest checking with your local recycling facility to see if they will accept used aluminum foil.
The easiest way to recycle aluminum foil is to rinse it after use and put it in your curbside recycling container.
This aluminum foil will go through the waste material sorting process and will eventually be melted down and reused.
It’s a good idea to combine all aluminum foil sheets into one ball for easier transportation and to prevent the mixing of recyclable materials.
The Benefits of Recycling Aluminum Foil
Aluminum foil is one of the most valuable materials we can recycle.
It can be repurposed very quickly with a turnaround time of around 60 days.
It takes 90% less energy to melt down and repurpose aluminum foil than it does to create brand new aluminum foil.
It is estimated that 75% of all the aluminum ever produced is still in use today.
Other Uses for Used Aluminum Foil
Used and leftover aluminum foil can also be reused around the home.
It can be used in place of steel wool pads to clean pots and pans.
Aluminum foil can also be used to protect your garden. If you notice you are having trouble with bugs and other pests, you can place aluminum foil around the bottom of your plants.
You can even hang aluminum foil strips in your garden to scare away animals to keep them away from your plants.
Aluminum foil is dishwasher safe so can be cleaned with the rest of your dishes.
Aluminum foil is not biodegradable or compostable but it can be recycled and reused.
If left outside it will slowly break down over time through contact with oxygen and water but this process takes hundreds of years.
Your best option for disposing of aluminum foil is to find a recycling facility that will allow you to recycle it.
Always make sure that any aluminum foil is free from food waste to increase your chances of being able to recycle it.