Metal Trays and Aluminum

In case you didn’t know, aluminum and metal trays are allowed in the City of Austin blue recycling carts.

For metals in the curbside recycling cart you may include:

  • Steel and tin cans
  • Aluminum foil baking pans (from roasts, catering, pies, to-go containers, etc.)
  • Aluminum foil (balled 2 inches or larger)

Metal, as with other with plastics, should be clean and dry. This means rinsed off and dry. You don’t have to scrub hard or put it in the dishwasher, but it should be mostly free of food. Dry is helpful so it doesn’t stick to other recyclables and cause possible issues in the sorting machine.

Image courtesy of Katie Lauland

If you cannot get all of your breakfast taco off the aluminum foil, it goes in the trash can.

A lot of people choose breakfast tacos as a “zero waste” food option at events, especially if it’s a morning event. However; in my experience it is extremely difficult at an event, as it is at home, to scrap off all the melted cheese and refried beans. So unfortunately in that instance, those aluminum sheets should go in the trash. If your tortilla and eggs scrap off nicely with no visible food residue, ball up the foil and drop it in.

Aluminum foil, as mentioned above, should be clean and balled up into 2 inch balls or larger. This is so the single-stream sorting machinery can see/identify the aluminum foil in order to process it correctly. If the ball isn’t big enough to identify, it will fall through the sorting into the trash.

One of my neighbors shared the following suggestion about the small metal tray pictured here. “These are a great reusable substitute to using aluminum foil. Mainly because they can be washed and reused in a way that foil can’t in most cases. And they come in personal sizes which make it really easy and fast to roast something in the oven without having to drag out an entire cookie sheet. I’ve had some of these for over a year now and they’re still going strong!” Please be aware that these trays were designed for single-use so they may not hold up in the long run and may “shed” material into your food if you are not careful. If you start to see color change, missing metal, different color, scratches, etc. it’s time to recycle the tray.

As with anything in recycling, “when in doubt, keep it out.” It’s more important to have a cleaner recycling stream with no or less contaminants than to have more items in the carts. The more contaminants show up in the recycling stream, the more the city has to pay the contractor(s) for dealing with those instead of the city receiving money for all the recyclables sold. Recycling contracts are supposed to be revenue contracts. I don’t want to discourage you, but I do encourage you to check your educational material. If you can’t find the answer, push for it and then request it be published. If you have the question, others do too!

If you are not sure if something can be recycled, check your city’s website, your contractor’s webpage, contact your building management, or check Earth911 for ideas on how to proceed. If you’re in Austin you can check What Do I Do With?, call 3-1-1, or ask me. I have lots of material at my house too and would be happy to drop some off.

If you live outside the City of Austin and in Central Texas, the recycling sites listed below may help. Not every city can or will take aluminum foil or pans, Austin didn’t for years, so it’s always good to check your current list of acceptable items. If you live in a city with scrap metal companies, you can ask if it’d be worth your while to collect these items and all the other unusuable metals in your home to turn in for a little bit of extra money.

City of Austin Residential Recycling / Styrofoam / Apartment Dwellers Guide
City of New Braunfels Residential Recycling / Styrofoam
City of Round Rock Residential Recycling / Recycling Center
City of San Marcos Residential Recycling / Apartment Dweller Quick Facts
Apartments should check with their provider/contractor or that provider/contractor(s) website(s) for instructions/restrictions.

Old pans, rusted trays, broken appliances, etc. that are not food cans, tins or trays, and have no more useful life in them can be dropped off at the Scrap Metal station at the Recycling & Reuse Drop-off Center. These items do not go in the curbside recycling carts.

If you live outside of Austin, see if your city has a recycling center that will accept these non-food-container items for recycling. You can also check with your local scrap metal companies for what they will accept.

If your metal items still have life left, please donate them to a local charity, your local community garden, food pantry, soup kitchen, Buy Nothing group, etc. Recycle comes after Reuse!

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