How to Recycle Aluminum Foil

close shot of hand holding a crumpled ball of used aluminum foil

Treehugger / Alexandra Cristina Nakamura

Aluminum is one of the most recycled materials used today. But while aluminum cans are easy to throw in the curbside bin, aluminum foil can be a bit more challenging to recycle. It depends on how clean it is and on your community recycling service.

Aluminum foil is often covered in food — like splatter from the grill or cheese from a gooey casserole. Most recycling centers can’t accept items that have been contaminated with food or grease residue because they can contaminate other recyclables during the recycling process.

Nevertheless, aluminum is a recycling success story. Because of a robust recycling program, about 75% of all the aluminum produced in the U.S. is still in use today, according to the Aluminum Association. Aluminum can be recycled over and over again without any loss of quality.

How to Recycle Aluminum Foil

aluminum foil pie plates along with roll of foil on white marble surface

Treehugger / Alexandra Cristina Nakamura

Before you can even consider recycling any of your aluminum foil, you have to determine whether your local provider accepts it. Check your community website or search Earth911’s recycling locator. There, you can find out if it can be put out with your local recyclables or taken to a nearby recycling center. In most cases, if they’ll take aluminum foil, they’ll also accept disposable pie tins and roasting pans.

Assess and Clean

hands clean used aluminum foil in steel sink with water

Treehugger / Alexandra Cristina Nakamura

Most recycling services and centers ask that you clean the foil before you toss it in with your other recyclables. If the foil only has a few bits of food — like a spot of frosting or a few bread crumbs — then just wipe them off and rinse the foil. If you wash with hot water, the foil may change colors, but that’s normal and won’t affect its ability to be recycled, points out Recycle Nation.

If the foil has burns and holes, that’s fine and won’t keep it from being easily recycled, says Earth911. But if the foil is very dirty with baked-on cheese, lots of greasy oil, or burnt sauces and gravies, it’s beyond saving. In those cases, you’ll have to throw it away.

Separate Items

hands peel off aluminum foil lid to from half-eaten fruit yogurt glass container

Treehugger / Alexandra Cristina Nakamura

If aluminum foil is part of a package — like yogurt containers, paper boxes, or drink containers — separate it from the other materials. If the items are connected and can’t be separated, even if they all are recyclable, they are considered contaminated and may not be able to be processed at a recycling facility.

Once the materials are separated, make sure everything is clean. Anything that is recyclable can be put in your bin or taken to a recycling center. If foil can’t be separated from other materials, you’ll have to throw it away.

Crumple and Toss

hand reaches for crumpled aluminum foil ball on marble surface

Treehugger / Alexandra Cristina Nakamura

Once you have your aluminum foil clean, crumple it into a ball. Sheets of aluminum foil can blow away out of your recycling bin because aluminum is such a light material. 

As you get more recyclable aluminum, add it to your ball until you have something that is at least two inches in diameter, suggests RecycleNation. Don’t toss single balls of aluminum foil into your recycling bin. Tiny bits of aluminum can tear and get caught in the machinery at the processing center.

Ways to Reuse or Repurpose Aluminum Foil

hands remove aluminum foil from small pie with handmade lattice crust

Treehugger / Alexandra Cristina Nakamura

Before you recycle your aluminum foil, consider reusing or repurposing it. There are plenty of ways you can give it a second life. Here are some ideas:

  • Reuse it. If you’re going to clean it, why not use it again? Just flatten it out again and use it to cover a pan or dish.
  • Protect your pie crusts. When baking a pie, fold strips of foil around the edges of your crusts to keep them from burning.
  • Sharpen scissors. Fold up a piece of aluminum foil into several layers and cut through it several times with a pair of dull scissors to sharpen the blades.
  • Clean the grill. Ball up some aluminum foil and use it like a wire brush to scrub the gunk left after grilling.
  • Scare the birds. If birds are dining on your fruit trees, dangle a few strips of aluminum foil in the branches. The shininess may deter their eating and encourage them to feast elsewhere.
  • Keep your oven clean. When you know you’re baking something messy, place some aluminum foil in the oven on the rack below what you’re making. It will catch the spills and make for easy cleanup.
  • Crafts. Give foil to your kids to create fun projects, from origami to DIY masks to anything else they can imagine.
Frequently Asked Questions
  • Can aluminum pie pans and takeout containers be recycled?

    Like foil, aluminum pie pans and takeout containers can be recycled as long as they are free from food residue. Any cardboard that comes with the containers should be placed with paper recycling.

  • Can you recycle aluminum foil for money?

    No, you cannot trade in aluminum foil for money. Most recyclers will not pay for foil because of the high risk for food contamination. It is also so lightweight that it would take an immense quantity to be worth paying for.