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Because You Asked

Can I Recycle Foil Gum Wrappers?

By Recyclebank |

You can usually recycle aluminum foil, and you can usually recycle paper, but you can’t recycle foil paper. Here’s why.

Dear Recyclebank,

Can I recycle foil paper, like the kind wrapped around fast food burgers or sticks of gum?



Dear Paul,

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.


What do you do with your used gum wrappers? Share any tips you might have in the comments below!

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  • Narendranath M. 9 days ago
    Yes maybe.
  • Val B. 11 days ago
    Maybe could offer them up to a school. Remember those chains we used to make out of them?
  • Claude K. 15 days ago
    I put gum foil in trash but put other paper wrap in for recycle.
  • John D. 15 days ago
    Every other weekend MPR cycle theory holding thus far.
    I thought I'd seen this article in the past year or two, or maybe similar content.
  • Javier M. 16 days ago
    Wow - an article that has not been re-posted in 6 years?! My older step-sister used to make chains or necklaces out of gum wrappers, I was fascinated. I wonder is she remembers that.
    • Cindy C. 16 days ago
      I remember doing that as a kid.
    • randy r. 8 days ago
      My sister made things out of them too.
      The sugar fiend I was only remembers the zebra stripe gum smells and colorful wrappers. So I grew up loving the smell of patchouli oil, inscence, and juicy fruit & zebra stripe gum. In the 70's they were making crochet hats with sodapop/ beer cans, curtains with beer/ sodapop pull-tabs, and gum rapper necklaces. Not sure if they made purses with woven gum wrappers or not. Life was different back then, with under 20 TV channels and no internet !
    • Barbara B. 8 days ago
      I remember those days!
      Thinking of the older days, who wants to tell their age?
      Ok. I am in the older than dirt group--------69
    • Barbara B. 8 days ago
      I need to start this question when some article is the Pledge of the day!
    • Gerald G. 7 days ago
      I'm 81 but my memory bank retains a few things, including making chains out of gum wrappers.
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