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#1
Old 05-16-2018, 06:46 PM
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What's greener: lining a pan with aluminum foil or not?

My wife and I are having a friendly argument and I need the Dope to help me out. Here's the situation: when cooking stuff, I frequently like to line our pans with a sheet of (100% recycled) aluminum foil. Then after dinner, whip off the foil, toss it and voila! Clean up in 3 seconds. (In actuality I always briefly rinse the pan as well).

My wife contends that this is not environmentally friendly, because we don't need to use the foil. We can just wash the dishes and save the aluminum. I countered that she may be saving aluminum, but is wasting water (and soap, I suppose) washing those pans, which often have a lot of stuff stuck on and take a while to wash properly. And by buying recycled aluminum, I am in my tiny way encouraging the recycling of aluminum (this sounds bogus even to me, but I'm trying to win an argument here).

So, that's the question: which is more "wasteful" - using foil to line the pans and skipping the washing or just washing the pans?

Minor note: for the purposes of this argument, assume that "just stick it in the dishwasher" is not an option, so keep that advice to yourself. This is science I'm talking about!
#2
Old 05-16-2018, 06:50 PM
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Do you recycle the foil, or throw it away?

If you throw it away, it's probably better to wash the pan - Aluminum manufacturing is very energy and water-intensive.
If you recycle it, it's probably slightly better than washing.
#3
Old 05-16-2018, 06:52 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by beowulff View Post
Do you recycle the foil, or throw it away?

If you throw it away, it's probably better to wash the pan - Aluminum manufacturing is very energy and water-intensive.
If you recycle it, it's probably slightly better than washing.
I throw it away, because I am under the impression that you're not supposed to recycle things covered in food waste.
#4
Old 05-16-2018, 06:58 PM
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Originally Posted by ShadowFacts View Post
I throw it away, because I am under the impression that you're not supposed to recycle things covered in food waste.
Wash it with soap and water.
:flees:
#5
Old 05-16-2018, 06:59 PM
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We use aluminum to line the baking sheet when my wife roasts vegetables. The foil is usually fairly clean, but greasy, and I just wad it up and throw it into the recycle bin.
A small amount of food isn't going to hurt the aluminum - I think the admonition to not throw food into the recycle bin is to keep the paper products clean.

Last edited by beowulff; 05-16-2018 at 06:59 PM.
#6
Old 05-16-2018, 07:02 PM
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If someone doesnít do the calcs for you, Iíll do it later for the greener part.

But right off the bat, lining pots and pans may not be a good idea for health reasons:

Quote:
However, CDC also reports that consuming higher than average levels of aluminum may be linked to nervous system, brain, bone diseases, and puts you at risk of anemia. Especially if your kidneys arenít filtering it out of your system properly. People who cook often with aluminum foil (and aluminum pots and pans) are at greater risk than another person.
Cite : https://nutritiouslife.com/live-cons...erous-cooking/

The other reason is safety : Sometimes those pans lined with foil can catch fire when heated directly on the stove.
#7
Old 05-16-2018, 07:22 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by am77494 View Post
But right off the bat, lining pots and pans may not be a good idea for health reasons:



Cite : https://nutritiouslife.com/live-cons...erous-cooking/

The other reason is safety : Sometimes those pans lined with foil can catch fire when heated directly on the stove.
Interesting - and I'm going to look into this further - but not gonna help me with the "green" argument
#8
Old 05-16-2018, 07:26 PM
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Quote:
I am in my tiny way encouraging the recycling of aluminum (this sounds bogus even to me, but I'm trying to win an argument here).
If you're not recycling the aluminum, I don't think this counts...
#9
Old 05-16-2018, 07:29 PM
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Originally Posted by Ethilrist View Post
If you're not recycling the aluminum, I don't think this counts...
Well, yes, but I am buying recycled aluminum, thereby helping the market for recycled aluminum. It's a stretch, I know, but not completely false, right?

I have no objection to recycling my used aluminum foil. I would, in fact, be delighted to do so. I just thought I wasn't supposed to because it's not clean enough.
#10
Old 05-16-2018, 07:40 PM
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Originally Posted by ShadowFacts View Post

I have no objection to recycling my used aluminum foil. I would, in fact, be delighted to do so. I just thought I wasn't supposed to because it's not clean enough.
You really shouldn't assume things like that.

All recycling rules are local. They depend on the age of the equipment and the technology available where the recycled materials are to be sorted, sold, and processed. It's annoying to see all the web sites making blanket statements about what can and cannot be recycled as if there were uniform world-wide laws governing such things.

Don't depend on what you read on the web unless it was posted there by the entity that runs your local recycling program. Check with your recycling program operator. But, there is no global rule preventing the recycling of dirty aluminum foil, within reason.

Last edited by Alley Dweller; 05-16-2018 at 07:41 PM.
#11
Old 05-16-2018, 07:52 PM
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Originally Posted by Alley Dweller View Post
You really shouldn't assume things like that.

All recycling rules are local. They depend on the age of the equipment and the technology available where the recycled materials are to be sorted, sold, and processed. It's annoying to see all the web sites making blanket statements about what can and cannot be recycled as if there were uniform world-wide laws governing such things.

Don't depend on what you read on the web unless it was posted there by the entity that runs your local recycling program. Check with your recycling program operator. But, there is no global rule preventing the recycling of dirty aluminum foil, within reason.
Super helpful, thanks!
#12
Old 05-16-2018, 07:57 PM
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Recycled aluminum ... you mean like old toilets? ...

I think using aluminum foil is just convenient, and ultimately a waste ... we won't have to wash the pan afterwards is all ... and it's fairly trivial washing the pan in context of the nightly dishes ... but of course how green is your water supply? ...

The biggest ecological disaster may well be the pan ... making iron is hard on the environment and whether or not to use aluminum foil seems a little beside the point ...

So, I'll offer as a factual answer that your wife is right, just because ... give her a kiss for being so smart and see what happens ...
#13
Old 05-16-2018, 08:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ShadowFacts View Post
I have no objection to recycling my used aluminum foil. I would, in fact, be delighted to do so. I just thought I wasn't supposed to because it's not clean enough.
Recycled aluminum (cans, foil, whatever) eventually gets melted down into molten aluminum to be made into new products. Any food waste left on your aluminum foil is not going to survive that melting process. Just like the soda pop drops left inside the can, or the label painted on the outside.

Regarding the 'greener' option, one of the bigger factors (but not mentioned so far) is the energy required to heat your wash water (assuming you wash with hot water). Personally, I let crusty pans like that soak in cool water (sometimes overnight). Then it's much easier to wash them, and is much faster, using less hot water.

Last edited by [email protected]; 05-16-2018 at 08:31 PM.
#14
Old 05-16-2018, 08:40 PM
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Fill the pan with water and leave it overnight. In the morning, you can wipe it clean with your fingers or a dishrag. Whether you then wash it with soap is up to you, I just leave the patina of grease in there, which recycles from use to use.

Last edited by jtur88; 05-16-2018 at 08:40 PM.
#15
Old 05-16-2018, 08:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by [email protected] View Post
Regarding the 'greener' option, one of the bigger factors (but not mentioned so far) is the energy required to heat your wash water (assuming you wash with hot water). Personally, I let crusty pans like that soak in cool water (sometimes overnight). Then it's much easier to wash them, and is much faster, using less hot water.
Quote:
Originally Posted by jtur88 View Post
Fill the pan with water and leave it overnight. In the morning, you can wipe it clean with your fingers or a dishrag. Whether you then wash it with soap is up to you, I just leave the patina of grease in there, which recycles from use to use.
Yep, we do soak pans when we don't use aluminum foil, so I am well aware of this option. But the wife doesn't like letting dishes sit in the sink, so it's also not her preferred option and is getting us away from the "which option is more environmentally friendly" question into a third option. I hope this doesn't sound snarky, because I don't intend it to be, but I'm not really looking for pan-washing advice here, I'm looking for facts

And I'm happy to have learned that I can recycle my used foil, so that's already a win for me.

Last edited by ShadowFacts; 05-16-2018 at 08:50 PM.
#16
Old 05-16-2018, 09:11 PM
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I tend to use parchment paper rather than foil for most gunky things. Probably doesn't work for big chunks of meat though.
#17
Old 05-16-2018, 09:51 PM
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Originally Posted by watchwolf49 View Post
The biggest ecological disaster may well be the pan ... making iron is hard on the environment and whether or not to use aluminum foil seems a little beside the point ...
This is basically crying over spilled milk. The pan has already been made and any environmental degradation from that making has already been done. It's no use pointing out how bad that was unless they're contemplating buying a new one. So unless it's shedding some toxic material into the waste water, they may as well keep using it.
#18
Old 05-16-2018, 10:31 PM
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Seems like the issue here is putting aluminum into the waste stream vs. using water & soap.

The argument against using soap and water is, IMHO, a thin one. I go by the "economic value" test. People talk about water being a scarce resource, but if it were really scarce, it would be expensive. Where I live, water is about $0.0111 per gallon (water + sewer). This cost is a surrogate for environmental impact since it includes waste water treatment to safely return it to the environment. If I spend 1/2 cent (or even a full cent!) washing a pan, I don't feel like I'm wasting a precious resource.

A quick Google shows that recycled-aluminum foil can be had for around $0.06/sq. ft. With the foil you are using more-expensive resources; the fact that it's recycled mitigates only the impact of mining and extracting the aluminum, not the impact of reclaiming it; you have the environmental impact of manufacturing the finished product, plus you are putting (practically) nondegradable material into the waste stream.

Using recycled aluminum is better for the environment than using virgin aluminum, but using no aluminum at all is even better.

Personally, I use foil.
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#19
Old 05-16-2018, 10:37 PM
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Originally Posted by Alley Dweller View Post
All recycling rules are local.
Indeed. I don't know where ShadowFacts lives but in my jurisdiction the rule is:

Aluminum Foil, Pie Tins, etc.: Clean thoroughly and recycle curbside.

If I have to clean foil to recycle it, it's not going to happen.
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#20
Old 05-16-2018, 10:41 PM
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Originally Posted by SmartAleq View Post
I tend to use parchment paper rather than foil for most gunky things. Probably doesn't work for big chunks of meat though.
I was gonna say this. I use paper too. I'm pretty sure it's not real parchment paper, it is recycled, brown paper for pan lining. It keeps pans relatively clean, no stuck on bits at all and is easier on my trash load. We don't have pickup out here in the woods. So that's my concern. If I do use aluminum foil I put it in with my recycling. I have to take it to the center myself and they have never told me there was too much food waste in it. I think if you recycled your foil after use you would be right. Otherwise your wife is right.

Last edited by Beckdawrek; 05-16-2018 at 10:42 PM.
#21
Old 05-16-2018, 10:49 PM
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How much energy goes into heating the water to scrub it with, though?

The OP's question is, after all, which is more environmentally friendly, using recycled aluminum (which he will now recycle again), or scrubbing the pan with hot water? I'd assume it would depend on certain factors, such as:

This is from a UK site, and it assumes hot water is heated by a gas boiler, which may not be the case in your home:
Quote:
Almost zero CO2e: by hand in cold water (but the plates aren't clean)
540g CO2e: by hand, using water sparingly and not too hot
770g CO2e: in a dishwasher at 55įC
990g CO2e: in a dishwasher at 65įC
8000g CO2e: by hand, with extravagant use of water
I don't know what constitutes "extravagant," but I'd guess it means running hot water onto the pan while scrubbing it.

I also don't know what the CO2e of recycling aluminum is. If someone can provide that, it should be easy to resolve your argument.
#22
Old 05-16-2018, 11:00 PM
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Time is also a valuable resource, and if lining a pan with foil saves a few minutes that you'd rather not spend scrubbing a pan, go for it.
#23
Old 05-17-2018, 04:47 AM
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Is the pan the only thing you run the water for? Do like my brothers did back in the day and throw the pan in a cold oven for a few days until you have enough for a sinkful. Drove my parents nuts.
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#24
Old 05-17-2018, 05:11 AM
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+1 for lining with baking paper, rather than foil. Does the same job and is much less energy intensive to manufacture.
#25
Old 05-17-2018, 07:48 AM
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CO2 footprint for new aluminum = 20 kg of CO2 per kg of aluminum (cite : http://world-aluminium.org/media.../fl0000169.pdf)

Recycled Aluminum needs about 8% of the energy. (Cite : http://drivealuminum.org/aluminu...ustainability/) Add to it another 10% for transportation / sorting/ manufacturing . So roughly recycled Aluminum has 20% of the carbon footprint of new aluminum. So about 4 kg of CO2 per kg of Aluminum.

Letís say you use 2 sq ft of Aluminum foil. So the weight of 2 sq ft will be about 8 g. (Cite : https://google.com/amp/amp.slate...p_session.html). So the total footprint of the foil is 32 g.

For water, the carbon footprint varies due to heating/ waste water processing / pumping etc. for the UK, the published value is about 0.8 g CO2 /l of tap water ( Cite : http://oco-carbon.com/metrics/the-ca...-of-tap-water/). So letís say you use a gallon (about 4 l of water to clean the pan). Then the CO2 footprint is about 3.2 g.

To summarize :

A. carbon footprint using foil : 32 g
B. Washing the pan, carbon footprint : 3.2 g


Your wife is right
#26
Old 05-17-2018, 08:29 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by am77494 View Post
CO2 footprint for new aluminum = 20 kg of CO2 per kg of aluminum (cite : http://world-aluminium.org/media.../fl0000169.pdf)

Recycled Aluminum needs about 8% of the energy. (Cite : http://drivealuminum.org/aluminu...ustainability/) Add to it another 10% for transportation / sorting/ manufacturing . So roughly recycled Aluminum has 20% of the carbon footprint of new aluminum. So about 4 kg of CO2 per kg of Aluminum.

Letís say you use 2 sq ft of Aluminum foil. So the weight of 2 sq ft will be about 8 g. (Cite : https://google.com/amp/amp.slate...p_session.html). So the total footprint of the foil is 32 g.

For water, the carbon footprint varies due to heating/ waste water processing / pumping etc. for the UK, the published value is about 0.8 g CO2 /l of tap water ( Cite : http://oco-carbon.com/metrics/the-ca...-of-tap-water/). So letís say you use a gallon (about 4 l of water to clean the pan). Then the CO2 footprint is about 3.2 g.

To summarize :

A. carbon footprint using foil : 32 g
B. Washing the pan, carbon footprint : 3.2 g


Your wife is right
Now this is what I'm talking about! I'm going to dig into these cites...

I suspect we use more than a gallon of hot water for the typical sticky pan, but even so not 10x as much.
#27
Old 05-17-2018, 08:40 AM
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"The wife is right", has always been more environmentally friendly in my book.
#28
Old 05-17-2018, 08:44 AM
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Originally Posted by Grrr! View Post
"The wife is right", has always been more environmentally friendly in my book.
[insert joke about "hot water" here]
#29
Old 05-17-2018, 09:13 AM
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Originally Posted by ShadowFacts View Post
Now this is what I'm talking about! I'm going to dig into these cites...

I suspect we use more than a gallon of hot water for the typical sticky pan, but even so not 10x as much.
You must be newly married since you believe logical scientific calculations will help you resolve a dispute. Good luck

Here are some numbers to give you some perspective:

A. CO2 footprint of the foil = 32 g
B. Same CO2 is released by burning 1/16 th of a typical 8 oz candle
C. Same CO2 is released by driving about 400 ft or 0.08 miles in a tupical American car
#30
Old 05-17-2018, 09:31 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by am77494 View Post
If someone doesnít do the calcs for you, Iíll do it later for the greener part.

But right off the bat, lining pots and pans may not be a good idea for health reasons:



Cite : https://nutritiouslife.com/live-cons...erous-cooking/

The other reason is safety : Sometimes those pans lined with foil can catch fire when heated directly on the stove.
From the actual CDC:
Quote:
Exposure to the levels of aluminum that are naturally present in food and water and the forms of aluminum that are present in dirt and aluminum pots and pans are not considered to be harmful.

Eating large amounts of processed food containing aluminum additives or frequently cooking acidic foods in aluminum pots may expose a person to higher levels of aluminum than a person who generally consumes unprocessed foods and uses pots made of other materials (e.g., stainless steel or glass). However, aluminum levels found in processed foods and foods cooked in aluminum pots are generally considered to be safe.
#31
Old 05-17-2018, 09:41 AM
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After reading all of this input, I've decided that the aluminum foil is an unnecessary "middle man" in the cooking process. A fine coating of olive oil for lubrication on a non stick baking sheet is just fine. That is, in fact, what I do. The washing of the pan takes only seconds and is, to me, a non-factor.
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#32
Old 05-17-2018, 11:34 AM
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I think if you never use foil you are inevitably shortening the lifespan of the baking sheet so I think that should be part of an environmental calculation.
#33
Old 05-17-2018, 01:32 PM
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Originally Posted by ShadowFacts View Post
It's a stretch, I know, but not completely false, right?
It's pretty close to completely false. Aluminum production is so energy intensive that the market already supports recyclers buying used aluminum from individuals for reuse. If I didn't put it in the bin I could save my aluminum and sell it to an industrial metal recycler about 5 miles away. Dropping it in the bin is more a subsidy for the recycling of other materials that require a subsidy for the market to work. Unlike a lot of recycled products, recycled aluminum doesn't suffer from being inadequate for the same uses as virgin material.

"Facts About Recycling Aluminum"
Quote:
Aluminum cans are 100% recyclable, meaning every ounce you put in the recycle bin gets recycled and ends up back on a store shelf in just 60 days.
There is literally no limit to how many times an aluminum can can be reclaimed. Aluminum is considered a sustainable metal, meaning it can be recycled again and again with no loss in material or quality.
Nearly 75% of all aluminum produced in the U.S. is still in use today.
Recycling an aluminum can takes just 5% of the energy it takes to make an new one.
#34
Old 05-17-2018, 01:34 PM
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Originally Posted by CarnalK View Post
I think if you never use foil you are inevitably shortening the lifespan of the baking sheet so I think that should be part of an environmental calculation.
Made of metal, the baking sheet can be recycled.
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#35
Old 05-19-2018, 01:13 AM
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Originally Posted by ShadowFacts View Post
Yep, we do soak pans when we don't use aluminum foil, so I am well aware of this option. But the wife doesn't like letting dishes sit in the sink, so it's also not her preferred option and is getting us away from the "which option is more environmentally friendly" question into a third option. I hope this doesn't sound snarky, because I don't intend it to be, but I'm not really looking for pan-washing advice here, I'm looking for facts

And I'm happy to have learned that I can recycle my used foil, so that's already a win for me.
I did address the two options: Use a liner or wash the pan. I said wash it.
#36
Old 05-19-2018, 03:09 PM
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Originally Posted by ShadowFacts View Post
And by buying recycled aluminum, I am in my tiny way encouraging the recycling of aluminum (this sounds bogus even to me, but I'm trying to win an argument here).
It is indeed bogus, and you're wasting your money if the 100% recycled foil costs more.

1. You don't have to "encourage" aluminum recycling. Market forces do that just fine, as noted above.

2. Due to said market forces, regular foil will have a very high percentage of recycled aluminum anyway.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Grrr! View Post
"The wife is right", has always been more environmentally friendly in my book.
I'd appreciate it if you and others would refrain from making random sexist comments. Thank you.
#37
Old 05-19-2018, 05:33 PM
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Originally Posted by Grrr! View Post
"The wife is right", has always been more environmentally friendly in my book.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Green Bean View Post
I'd appreciate it if you and others would refrain from making random sexist comments. Thank you.
My wife thought his comment was clever and quite amusing, actually. But you can call her sexist, too, if you want.

Anyway, back to aluminum foil...
#38
Old 05-19-2018, 05:51 PM
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Think of it this way: Suppose that, instead of washing the pan in hot, soapy water, you instead cleaned it by melting it down and pouring it into a pan-shaped mold to resolidify. Does that sound like it'd be an environmentally-friendly option? Does it seem any more appealing if you do that before you use the pan each time, instead of after? What if someone else melts the pan down for you?

Because that's what the foil actually is. Someone melted down a bunch of aluminum and shaped it into clean foil for you, and then after all that work, you're only using it once. OK, it's not as much weight as the whole pan, but I doubt you'd consider melting off just a foil-thin layer of your pan surface, either.
#39
Old 05-19-2018, 06:09 PM
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Originally Posted by Green Bean View Post
I'd appreciate it if you and others would refrain from making random sexist comments. Thank you.
Why would anyone possibly care what you would appreciate????
#40
Old 05-19-2018, 06:09 PM
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Because we're polite.
#41
Old 05-19-2018, 06:16 PM
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Since when?
#42
Old 05-19-2018, 11:49 PM
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Originally Posted by D'Anconia View Post
Since when?
That was an exclusive we, not inclusive.
#43
Old 05-20-2018, 06:16 PM
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ISTM that recycling aluminum foil used in cooking (i.e., with food material still stuck to it) is likely to attract insects and other pests to wherever you're storing it. That's one reason I've never bothered to recycle foil.
#44
Old 05-20-2018, 06:18 PM
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Originally Posted by commasense View Post
ISTM that recycling aluminum foil used in cooking (i.e., with food material still stuck to it) is likely to attract insects and other pests to wherever you're storing it. That's one reason I've never bothered to recycle foil.
Wouldnít those same insects be attracted to wherever you are throwing the foil away?
#45
Old 05-21-2018, 04:09 AM
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Originally Posted by beowulff View Post
Wouldnít those same insects be attracted to wherever you are throwing the foil away?
In our house, trash goes in plastic trash bag inside a lidded can in the kitchen. Recycling goes in an open crate in the garage. I assume most people don't put recycling in sealed cans or plastic bags.
#46
Old 05-21-2018, 02:57 PM
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Originally Posted by commasense View Post
In our house, trash goes in plastic trash bag inside a lidded can in the kitchen. Recycling goes in an open crate in the garage. I assume most people don't put recycling in sealed cans or plastic bags.
Do you clean all of your cans/bottles before putting them into the recycle bin? I know that some people do, but I'm not one of those people.
#47
Old 05-22-2018, 11:38 AM
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Do you clean all of your cans/bottles before putting them into the recycle bin? I know that some people do, but I'm not one of those people.
Yes, I rinse them out first.
#48
Old 05-22-2018, 12:08 PM
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"Which is greener" can be difficult to answer.

When my brother's son was gestating (he is 27 now) my brother obsessed over how best (in a green sense) to diaper the kid. He had two alternatives he was considering; disposable diapers or cloth diapers and a diaper service. Turns out the water/detergent used to launder cloth diapers was a huge negative, but disposables going into landfill was no picnic either.

I forget what he eventually decided.
#49
Old 05-28-2018, 09:19 PM
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Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Panama
Posts: 39,391
Quote:
Originally Posted by Green Bean View Post
I'd appreciate it if you and others would refrain from making random sexist comments. Thank you.
Quote:
Originally Posted by D'Anconia View Post
Why would anyone possibly care what you would appreciate????
Moderator Note

Please refrain from junior modding. No warnings issued, but don't take swipes at other posters.

Colibri
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