Can I recycle foil paper, like the kind wrapped around fast food burgers or sticks of gum?
Unfortunately, the short answer to your question is no, foil wrapping paper cannot be recycled as-is. This may be counterintuitive as both components of foil wrapping — paper and aluminum foil — can and should be recycled on their own. However, when the two are forged together in the form we commonly find protecting our take-out food and gum, the foil paper waste has to be thrown in the trash for a couple reasons.
First of all, the two individually-recyclable materials have very different recycling processes. Paper is treated with heat, water and chemicals to break the fibers down into a pulp, which gets reconstituted into new paper. Aluminum, on the other hand, simply gets melted down to be reformed for other uses. In addition to the difference in these processes challenging your urge to recycle foil paper, it is important to remember as a general rule for recycling that materials containing food and oil residue cannot be recycled, as each of these processes would be seriously impaired by the grease from your delicious fast food burger anyway (even if it were packed in a more recycle-friendly aluminum OR paper wrapping, the contamination alone would be problematic).
According to Waste Management, Inc., Americans used to peel the foil from their gum wrappers during WWII to contribute aluminum to the war effort. There are some less painstaking ways to put those wrappers to good use if you don’t have the time to peel all your foil wrapping for recycling or, as Iowa teen Elizabeth Rasmuson did, repurpose it as a prom dress. Terracycle’s Used Gum and Gum Packaging Zero Waste BoxTM collects not only gum wrappers, but also your used chewing gum itself to be converted into plastic resin.
Mintel’s 2010 consumer survey indicates that 19% of people want gum and mints to have packaging that’s better for the environment. Fortunately, there are some favorable alternatives to the foil paper-wrapped gum that may be worth considering the next time you’re in line at your local pharmacy or supermarket. Several companies offer gum in bulk, either in resealable plastic bags or in closable rigid plastic cups fitted to the cup holders in cars. Both of these options offer a smaller footprint with much less packaging, and can be repurposed and/or recycled.
While there is not much of a way to avoid the foil paper used by your favorite deli or burger joint, preparing food at home and storing it in reusable or recyclable materials is a great alternative that will protect your wallet, your health and the planet.