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As someone who uses a ton of aluminium foil (almost daily) for use in my oven as a protective/convenient layer, (and who didn't know that foil was bad for recycling...) what can I use as an alternative that is better for the environment?

If applicable it would be fine to mention multiple goods that would replace certain specific functions of aluminium foil.

Currently, for example, I use aluminium foil for sustained temperatures up to 550 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as for broiling/toasting sometimes, in addition to the usual more common cooking functions.

  • What about parchment paper? For example this one (no affiliation) is home compostable and has FSC label. – THelper Aug 21 '19 at 15:27
  • @THelper I edited in some additional information, but regarding the parchment paper- it would be a good partial replacement (for non-broiling and temperatures below the range specified as 'safe') but I would also be interested in additional replacements for the hotter temperatures and for broiling. – Onyz Aug 21 '19 at 15:30
  • Can you supply more information on how you use aluminum foil in broiling? I assume you line the dish you are cooking in with foil to ensure more even browning. In that case, you can equip your oven/broiler with permanent aluminum panels and skip the foil completely, or you can invest in a shiny pan that is oven safe as your container. Note that the aluminum lining is not strictly necessary for an even broil if you invest some time in determining the broiler's sweet spot. – RollingCompass Aug 21 '19 at 17:47
  • @RollingCompass To be honest, usually when I'm broiling something it's one of the last steps (I do a normal bake and then broil to finish it) so the foil is just there from the earlier step, underneath the food- but I'm not a chef so maybe aside from aluminium foil I'm doing something wrong there as well. – Onyz Aug 21 '19 at 17:51
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    @Onyx In that case, you can just leave the foil away entirely and simply oil/butter your baking dish well and you won't have any problems with sticking food. I haven't been using aluminum foil in the kitchen for years now, substitung it for parchment paper when baking or leaving it out entirely for more high temperature endeavors. – RollingCompass Aug 21 '19 at 18:13
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I want to frame-challenge your assumption that aluminum is a poor choice due to difficulties in recycling. The linked question refers to "aluminum food packaging" such as soda cans, which is a composite of aluminum and epoxy. The epoxy is there to protect the aluminum from the food, and the food from the aluminum.

Aluminum foil is a different deal. And the frame-challenger there is to try to take a tour of your local {recycler | garbage stream} and ask to see their eddy current separator. You want to know if they have one.

Yo, magnets, oh!

So certainly the recycling stream, and maybe the waste stream, go through two interesting process.

First, they use magnets in the normal way you would expect, to yank out any ferrous metals - basically iron/steel. That's to keep them out of the next process.

Now, have you ever seen the inside of an AC induction motor? It has one moving part: a "squirrel cage" made entirely of aluminum. The fixed windings in the motor create a magnetic field that "spins" at 50/60 Hz. what can that do to aluminum? It can make electrons move in the aluminum, creating its own magnetic field which reacts against the first one. This works so well almost every AC powered motor is this.

Back to our eddy current separator, the garbage is dragged through a strong, spinning magnetic field. Non-ferrous metals "Jump!" ...while normal trash does not. At $3/pound for copper, this is worth doing just for the mineral value. Aluminum comes along as well, and now that they've separated it, it's no trouble to recycle it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2KKmh-CYTg

You can freely dump aluminum into any waste stream where this is done.

Make it eddy-current friendly

The problem is a very thin sheet of aluminum foil may not have the density to pick up the magnetic field, especially if it's been mashed up in your waste stream and attached to other things.

So fold or crush it down into the densest, most compact form that you possibly can. Make it into an "aluminum nugget". Feel free to make a big aluminum ball out of multiple items, but past tennis ball sized, you surely have diminishing returns.

Metals recycle more efficiently than almost any other substance. They are, after all, atomic; literally atomic. Al is an element. The energy savings in reusing aluminum vs mining bauxite and smelting it is staggering.

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I'd suggest getting a high-quality enamel baking dish - enamel/ceramic, in my experience, is much better at being "non-stick" than Teflon, lasts a lot longer, as well as avoiding the potential risks of the latter.

That way you won't need to line it, thus avoiding the foil.

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Not possible to recycle foil everywhere, here in Ireland for instance. Because it is not clean before going to the centres for recycling. The same applies to cling film, which you have another name for. While storing food we use a plate or saucer to cover cooked food. In the oven or grill we use a lid or if the worst comes to the worst, me or the dish-washer copes.

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Well, 409 stainless-steel could be pulled out of garbage by magnets. Aluminum is less expensive and will transfer heat faster than 409 but 409 would be heavy-duty strength even in the single-thickness size of aluminum foil.

In fact all steel could be replaced with 409 and then steel would be more valuable in recycling. Also, with 409 there would be very little corrosion in the world. Now 409 has very little nickel content and is mostly just steel and chromium. So 409 is about half the cost of 304L. But 304L is available in standard structural shapes while 409 is mostly found in coils of sheet metal. Of course 409 can be bent to simple shapes from sheet metal. Now tubes can be found in 409.

Also, replace outdoor aluminum with 409 because white-dots, pitting, and white-streaks-in-paint on aluminum is corrosion.

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I wash my foil and use it many times over before throwing it away. It's easy to cut consumption by 50%.

  • We use a thicker aluminum thingy (sold for BBQ) for broiling in the oven. They can be reused many many times after washing. – cbeleites supports Monica Nov 12 '19 at 21:50
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Aluminum foil largely replaced tin foil after WWII. It's a new thing, first manufactured by Dr. Lauber, Neher & company in Switzerland in about 1910 and was initially used to wrap chocolate, Life Savers, gum, and soup bullion, but those who were previously using tin foil for cooking (since the late 1800's) switched over to aluminum because tin imparts an undesirable flavor to most foods. The primary purpose for using either one is to contain the moisture with something that is impermeable to water which won't burn up at high heat. This effectively helps prevent your food from drying out, especially at temperatures up to 450 F. I'm not sure why you would be cooking at 550 F. That's just too hot.

Rest assured that the foil you are using is very easy to recycle. Since you use a lot of it, you can dedicate a trash can with a lid to pack your used foil into. This will make it easier assess the value of your resource. Stop thinking about it as a waste, and start thinking about it as an investment. Some people hold gold or silver because it has inherent value, but some hold aluminum for the very same reasons. If your garage starts filling up with it and you are running out of space, then melt it down into bullion and put it in your vault. It far more valuable after you've removed the dross.

Before the advent of modern ovens and stoves with temperature controls on every dial, it was extremely difficult to regulate the temperature of your cooking. This is why foil is so often used these days on a cooking fire or a barbecue. Expertise and constant attention (or foil) is required for anything more advanced than soup under those conditions. The water inside a soup kettle prevents it from getting too hot while simultaneously protecting the food from dehydration, but unless you're shooting for higher temperatures for a broil, crust, or char, then a simple lid on your cooking vessel will perform the same function as foil. No need for recycling here because it's immanently reusable.

For the sake of convenience when lining baking sheets, wrapping leftovers, making an impromptu cover, and for making cleanup easier, there is no reason for you to switch from foil as long as you're not tossing it out when you're done with it, but there are alternatives you might consider.

Fortunately for us, there were great chefs before 1910 who prepared succulent food without tin or aluminum at all. We can learn from their ways. Banana leaves, Taro leaves, and corn husks can be used for the same purpose as foil with far better results regarding flavor. I use these things because I don't want to buy foil, but the end result is much better, tastier, and it's environmentally more sound.

  • I like the last part of your answer about potential alternatives, but I don't agree with the rest. Melting aluminium yourself and/or having it recycled has an environmental impact, so I think that's why the OP asked this question. How can he lower his impact? Or can you provide some evidence that the difference in impact between aluminium and alternatives is negliable? – THelper Aug 24 '19 at 6:51
  • I melt aluminum using a large fresnel lens salvaged from an old big screen TV. No impact there, but it's a lot of work to keep it focused. You could also use solar PV to melt it with a small kiln. I may have misunderstood the part of the question where the OP seems to imply that aluminum foil cannot be recycled. It can, regardless of the fact that many people who recycle will not accept it. Just trying to say that it has a high value and should not be tossed out. – Scott Tramposch Aug 28 '19 at 3:19
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In Britain aluminium foil is traditionally recyclable. Children used to save milk bottle tops and wash them out, and they were collected I think, by the schools. The point here is twofold. Only clean things are suppose to go in the recycle bin, so you would need to wash foil with any waste on it. The other problem is more serious. Plastic foil, which looks exactly like aluminium foil is being used more and more frequently and this is not currently recyclable. The test is, if you crinkle it up and it stays crinkled it is OK , if it springs apart again, it is not OK.

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