Dear Umbra,

Summertime grilling is in full swing at our house, but I am wondering what the ecological cost is of all that aluminum foil we’re using in place of our regular pots and pans. Sure makes for great clean up, but it is not recyclable as aluminum cans are.

Sandra Liebe
Paris, Ill.

Dearest Sandra,

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I hate to be the one to point this out, but it’s a little rude to say you’re barbecuing all the time and not invite me. I’m used to it (sniff), but another advice columnist might take umbrage.

Tastes like summer!

Photo: iStockphoto.

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The mining and processing of aluminum (or, as history and the Brits would have it, aluminium) is extremely resource-intensive. This is ameliorated only by the fact that aluminum is practically 100 percent recyclable, and does not degrade as it is recycled — apparently, it can be reworked into infinity without losing quality. Plastic, by contrast, loses quality each time it is recycled, and eventually must be chucked. So. We love recycling aluminum, and it is a top recycling priority.

Aluminum foil is technically just as recyclable as aluminum cans. It’s just that we often make foil dirtier than cans, and many recycling programs will not accept it due to this problem. You may wish to double-check with your local recycling peeps and see what would happen if you gave your foil a nice wipe or rinse to remove the BBQ sauce before sending it to them. It’s also possible that you could reuse it yourself, treating it more like a pot or a pan — maybe you are already doing so.

One downer thought on aluminum: while the foil you use for grilling is a visible use of this precious, energy-intensive commodity, aluminum is also used as a layer in many types of lightweight packaging — the aseptic boxes that soy milk and juice come in being one example. So if you’re not recycling those, start losing sleep over that too. Here’s just one motivational factoid: Americans are said to throw away enough aluminum in three months to rebuild our entire commercial air fleet.

If you are unable to recycle foil in your area, and you are reducing and reusing to the best of your ability, there’s one more way to make the situation better: buy recycled foil. There are 100 percent recycled-content brands available. The recycling process uses about 5 percent of the energy of the original processing. That is a big difference, and I think buying recycled foil is a worthwhile endeavor. If you can’t get it easily in Paris, Ill., order some online. Why not? If you can make the effort to write me about your concern, you can make the effort to mail-order and stockpile for this and future summers of grillin’.


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