Which material is easier to recycle: aluminum foil or plastic?

Which material is easier to recycle: aluminum foil or plastic?

About aluminum foil

Aluminum is a mineral. Because of its durability, lightness and workability, it is one of the most widely used minerals in the manufacture of materials. Aluminum is used in the construction and automotive industries, but it is also used in our kitchen (soda cans, aluminum foil, cans, etc.).

In theory aluminum is 100% recyclable, infinitely and without loss of quality. All its physical properties, such as lightness, strength and protection against light or grease are preserved.

Recycling of aluminum packaging is 48% in the UK according to the Guardian. From 26,000 tons in 2014 to 40,000 in 2019, the share of recycled aluminum has only increased in recent years. Conversely, 80% of aluminum car parts are recycled. While aluminum is supposed to be 100% recyclable, how can this difference be explained?

The low recycling rate of aluminum from household waste is linked to the lack of equipment in many sorting centers. These centers manage to sort large aluminum packaging such as cans. But small packaging, smaller than a yoghurt pot, is difficult to identify and ends up in landfill or incineration. They represent about 50% of the annual tonnage. In order to increase the recycling rate, we must therefore succeed in recycling these small packages!

Keep reading, we will give you a tip at the end of the article to solve this problem!

Now, let’s talk about plastic

Plastic cannot be recycled, it can only be downcycled. But what does that mean?

Unlike glass or aluminum, plastic loses quality during the recycling process, which means it has a limited life cycle.

In general, a plastic bottle can be made into a lower quality bottle about twice before being made into other products such as doormats, textiles, plastic lumber, etc.

Recycling plastic is of course preferable to landfilling it, as it reduces waste in the short term. But in the end, this process is not infinite, and the plastic will eventually end up in the trash because it will no longer be possible to use it.

If you want to know more about downcycling our friends at EasyEcoTips have written a full article about it, we invite you to click here!

The problem with recycling small items

Whether it’s plastic or aluminum foil, small items sent individually for recycling are too small to be sorted and may block the recycling equipment.

These include straws, bottle caps, coffee pods, plastic cutlery, paper clips and a million other tiny items like pieces of foil or paper.

While these items are theoretically recyclable, sending them for recycling one by one can be counterproductive. Because it’s a nightmare for the recycling centers. Check yours locally, they can sometimes sort them. If not, there’s a good chance they’ll end up in the landfill…

So what to do? Here’s the trick!

We call it the credit card rule.

It’s simply to ball up all the little pieces of trash we’ve talked about, straws, bottle caps, coffee pods, plastic cutlery, paper clips. We make a ball until it is the size of a credit card. With this technique, the small waste that was not recyclable, becomes much easier to detect by the recycling equipment in the sorting centers!

Source : The Guardian.

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