Aluminum foil is a convenient kitchen staple, but this single-use product is not sustainable if you care about the environment.
Why Aluminum Foil Is Bad For The Environment
Aluminum foil is made of an aluminum ore called bauxite extracted from the earth. It is then refined into aluminum oxide and electrolytically reduced to pure aluminum. This pure aluminum is then rolled and served as foils that we use.
Aluminum is classified as a metal and does not degrade or decompose naturally like most other metals. The same goes for your tinfoil. If it is not disposed of properly, it will remain in the environment for a long time, and living animals can mistake it for food.
Aluminum foils and tinfoils are generally used as single-use items in home cooking and food service. It is used to line baking pans or to wrap dishes. In both cases, after use, it gets thrown into the bin.
Single-use waste is a burden for the environment. It fills up your waste bin quickly. Also, the cost and labor required to recycle them make them less environmentally friendly and cost-effective in the long run.
Resource And Energy Intensive
The production of aluminum foil is very intensive, requiring high temperatures and large amounts of electricity. The mining of bauxite, which is the primary raw material for aluminum foil, also causes damage to biodiversity through deforestation.
The Hall-Heroult process, which is used to turn aluminum oxide into aluminum, often uses non-renewable fossil fuels. The waste generated from this process, known as red mud, should not be taken lightly. It requires special treatment to be disposed of properly, as failure to do so can lead to pollution of the environment.
Although aluminum foil can be recycled, its widespread use makes the process difficult. For materials to be recycled, they need to be kept as clean and isolated as possible. However, aluminum foil is often contaminated with food particles, making it challenging for recycling facilities to process.
Additionally, not all recycling facilities accept aluminum because it must be thoroughly cleaned of food residue and contamination before it can be recycled, which incurs additional costs for the facility.
What To Replace Single-Use Aluminum Foil And Parchment Paper With
Aluminum foil, parchment paper, and tinfoil, one or the other, are all single-use non-biodegradable products creating problems for the environment. The best eco-friendly alternative to them would be a reusable silicone baking sheet.
Silicone is a food-grade material that is able to withstand high temperatures, making it a suitable replacement for traditional baking products.
There are many silicone baking sheets available on the market if you search for them. I personally like the one from the Zefiro brand, as it is designed to fit well in regular-size oven trays and is safe to use at temperatures up to 425ºF.
Zefiro baking sheet is also dishwasher safe, so while you use one, you can place another in the dishwasher, reducing the time needed for cleaning.
What Makes Silicone Sheet Sustainable
Silicone is resistant to wear and tear and can withstand high temperatures without issue. This means that when you choose a silicone baking sheet, you can expect a longer lifespan compared to single-use baking papers.
The non-stick properties of silicone sheets make them easy to maintain. Cleaning them only requires a wipe or rinse. Many silicone sheets are dishwasher safe, allowing you to clean them alongside other kitchenware.
Silicone baking sheets are usually made from naturally occurring elements and free from harmful chemicals like BPA, phthalates, and lead. It is safe for use in food contact, often considered safer than other food-grade materials.
One of the reasons why silicone is so much better for cooking or baking is that it does not leach or release harmful chemicals when exposed to high temperatures. Additionally, it is resistant to micro bacteria, which helps keep food fresh.
Silicone rubber, which is commonly used in the sheets, is a type of polymer that can be easily processed by industrial recycling facilities. However, it is important to ensure that it is cleaned of food residues before being sent for recycling.
It is even better that you would not need to recycle often as one piece of silicone sheet can last you over a year easily. With proper care and usage, you can expect them to last for a few years at least.
The Tradeoffs Of Using Silicone Sheets
Silicone sheets are generally more expensive than traditional single-use baking products such as parchment paper or aluminum foil. This is because the manufacturing process of silicone sheets is more expensive than that of traditional products, which drives up the cost.
However, when considering the bigger picture, the cost of silicone sheets may be more cost-effective in the long run. A good silicone baking sheet can last for several years, whereas one would need to purchase multiple traditional single-use products to achieve the same lifespan.
Despite their many benefits, the production of silicone sheets does have some environmental impacts. Some companies may use fossil fuels and oils in the production process, and emissions may be produced.
However, it is important to note that the production process has been improved over time to reduce the environmental impact, for example, by using more sustainable raw materials, implementing energy-efficient production methods, and reducing waste and emissions.”