Is aluminium foil recycled?
Aluminium foil and aluminium foil packaging are increasingly recycled in Europe. For aluminium packaging (i.e. packaging with aluminium dominant material including beverage cans), the estimated average recycling rate in Europe today is 65% The amount of aluminium packaging recycled greatly depends on the efficiency of the national packaging collection schemes in each European country. For aluminium packaging, national rates across Europe vary from 30% to more than 80%. The metal in aluminium packaging is fully recyclable and can, in principle, be used for the production of new packaging applications or other valuable aluminium products such as castings for the automotive industry or for building products.
In the situations where aluminium foil and alufoil packaging are not collected separately for recycling, they are collected together with the rest of the household waste which generally enters an energy recovery process when it is safely incinerated. During the incineration process a part of the aluminium in the packaging, in particular the thin and laminated foil fraction, is oxidised, releasing energy which is recovered and converted to heat and electricity. However, recent studies show that a significant proportion of even the thin gauge aluminium foil in packaging is not oxidised, but melts and is increasingly collected from the bottom ashes of the incinerator, sorted and returned to the “aluminium pool” to be reused. These small pieces of aluminium are readily separated from the bottom ashes using eddy current sorting technology. This has an additional benefit that the bottom ash, now free of non-ferrous metals, are more stable and can then be reused in construction projects such as roads. (see also Fact Sheet on recovering the aluminium metal from the bottom ashes)