For this action I want to talk about a common household item that most of us probably don’t give much thought to: aluminum foil. Yes, that handy stuff in your kitchen drawer is so darned convenient for grilling, wrapping, storing, making hats– and it makes cleaning pots and pans so darned easy, you just take it off the pan and throw it away! What could be simpler?
Yes, that was a trick question; of course its not that simple. According to our friends at Earth 911, Americans recycle about 65 to 70% of their aluminum, but most of that isn’t in the form of aluminum foil. Aluminum foil is pretty darned hard to clean, and most recycling centers wont accept dirty foil-many want nothing to do with it because they assume its contaminated- so we end up throwing it out, to the tune of about 3 lbs per person per year. That’s collectively several thousand tons of foil a year (enough, Earth911 says, to create an entire fleet of commercial airliners!!) going into our landfills, where it sits around for several hundred years or, if incinerated, ends up releasing aluminum into the air, which isn’t such a healthy thing.
So what can we do about this? In our family, we do wash and reuse foil if its not too dirty, to give it a longer lifespan. We also try to minimize our use of it in favor of reusable or washable items that don’t just get thrown away after use. But recently I learned an astonishing factoid that has me changing my foil-purchasing habits: recycled aluminum foil, which is increasingly available in your local grocery store, takes about 95% less energy to produce than foil made from virgin materials! Here’s another amazing fact: According to the Aluminum Association, aluminum recycling annually saves the energy equivalent of 15 million barrels of crude oil – nearly America’s entire gas consumption for one day. I find these numbers pretty astonishing, it means there are significant energy savings to be had just by choosing the recycled alternative to this very common household item.
Recycled aluminum is a little bit more expensive (which I find to be something of a conundrum; if it takes so much less energy to make, why does it cost more? Curious). Its also a little bit thinner, so if you have a need for some reason for a super-duty aluminum foil, you may need to go for that heavy duty stuff they sell. But otherwise, we think it works great, and if we are saving 95% of the energy costs by going to recycled, that’s worth it in my book. So don’t be foiled- buy recycled!