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How to dispose of foil takeout containers correctly

Made from thin, flexible aluminium sheets, foil takeout containers are a popular option for restaurant owners and food vendors. More so, this form of takeaway packaging is liquid and grease-resistant, thermally conductive, food-safe, versatile, and easily resealable. 

External elements, such as sunlight, heat, humidity and bacteria, which can degrade the appearance and quality of food, cannot reach the contents of foil containers. Beyond this, foil takeout containers are considered a more sustainable option, as they are highly recyclable provided they are clean. 

The flexibility of the material also means that foil containers can be easily customised into creative shapes, embossed or branded for brand identification and consumer appeal. As well as being ideal for hot food, foil containers are also perfectly suited to ready-made meals, which can be popped into the oven at home or even frozen for a later date.

Overall, foil food containers are one of the most versatile and eco-friendly options on the market. However, how can restaurants ensure consumers dispose of foil takeout containers correctly to ensure they remain sustainable?

Which types of businesses use foil takeout containers?

A 2023 report estimated that the online food delivery market will reach $1.02 trillion in 2023. By 2027, the market is expected to reach a value of approximately $1.65 trillion. 

This increase in food delivery services has driven the demand for convenient, lightweight, and eco-friendly takeaway packaging. Notably, the aluminium foil and packaging market is expected to reach $38.1 billion by 2030, with an annual growth rate of more than 4.3%. 

Furthermore, the report highlights that containers and packaging applications account for 65% of the North American aluminium foil market. Again, the report cites a ‘growing fast food & takeout industry’ and ‘longer shelf life’ as key market drivers.

More so, foil containers are often more cost-effective than cardboard takeaway boxes. Some foil containers are available at around $55.54 for 500, while cardboard containers cost around $45.73 for 300. In this case, the foil containers win out in price against cardboard.

This also indicates that several types of food-related businesses use foil containers. Foil takeout containers are exceptionally common in Italian restaurants and pizzerias. However, they are often used in delis and cafeterias, as well as in many other food-related sectors, such as frozen meals, baked goods, and catering services. 

Beyond this, foil takeout containers are reusable and can be helpful in many situations. For instance, consumers can reuse them to pack lunches. They are also highly convenient when used for meal preparation for the week, as they can store single portions for meals that will be cooked later in the week. 

Other great ways to use foil takeout containers include:

  • Using them to store food that has been purchased in bulk.
  • Use them for plates on a picnic or other outdoor eating activity
  • Organise tools or other small objects with them
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How are foil containers manufactured?

Modern foil is made by rolling aluminium through a mill that continuously moves to make the material thinner and longer. The product is often wound into a coil at the end of the production line. These coils can then be warmed up in a furnace in order to create certain mechanical properties the client requires. 

Foil containers are then created by condensing mechanical and air pressure to mould aluminium foil into a shaped die cavity. Custom foil takeout containers can be prepared for table-ready service after the container has functioned as a package and a heating utensil. Foil containers can be made in a variety of shapes, sizes, colours, and can have a number of special-purpose coatings.

Aluminium foil’s key sustainability strength is its endless recyclability. As it is one of the few packaging materials that does not degrade through the recycling loop, aluminium foil can be used and recycled an infinite number of times. It is estimated that 75% of all the aluminium ever made is still in use somewhere in the world in one form or another. 

However, producing aluminium foil packaging requires a lot of electricity. Due to the amount of energy required, aluminium can be fairly expensive to produce. However, this is also why it has such a high recycling value. 

In spite of this, landfills are full of foil takeout containers that have been discarded after one use. Disposing of foil containers properly is often the biggest hurdle when managing waste, but it can be done. In Europe, for example, 55% of aluminium foil is recycled and appropriately managed.

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Are foil takeout containers recyclable?

Those who are unlikely to hang on to foil containers should ensure they are properly recycled. Notably, containers made from aluminium foil can be reprocessed in as little as 60 days. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, around 60% of the aluminium produced in the US is recycled. 

Furthermore, the recycling process requires 90% less electricity than virgin aluminium products, placing them in the category of highly sustainable materials.  

However, there are barriers to recycling foil containers that both consumers and businesses must be aware of to reduce environmental damage. The biggest barrier to recycling aluminium foil is the food it is usually covered in after a single use. 

Historically, recycling centres have been unable to recycle products mixed with organic material, as it would be expensive to clean before starting the recycling process. As a result, the act of recycling foil containers along with aluminium cans was banned for a long time – despite both products being made from the same material.

However, as sustainability initiatives have increased, recycling processes have evolved. Today, many recycling facilities in the US accept used aluminium foil in regular curbside recycling bins. To help prevent minimal environmental damage, brands should inform consumers that foil takeout containers must be cleaned before they can be recycled. 

As well as being recyclable, aluminium meets national food hygiene standards and does not produce harmful substances during the manufacturing process. Compared with the pollution and environmental damage caused by plastic products, aluminium foil containers can be weathered after being in soil for two to three years, and will not cause continuous damage to the land and surrounding natural environments.