Soil to Foil

Soil to Foil

Soil to Foil: Aluminum and the Quest for Sustainability
Aluminum and the Quest for Industrial Sustainability
Published by Columbia University Press
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Aluminum is the most abundant metal in the earth’s crust. It is also ubiquitous in the modern world, from aircraft to soda cans. A dizzying number of consumer and industrial products employ aluminum, typically alloyed, because of its availability, versatility, and malleability. Today, how efficiently we use—and reuse—aluminum is vital to addressing key environmental challenges and understanding humanity’s fraught relationship with the earth.

Soil to Foil tells the extraordinary story of aluminum. Saleem H. Ali reveals its pivotal role in the histories of scientific inquiry and technological innovation as well as its importance to sustainability. He offers compelling portraits of the scientists and innovators who discovered new uses for this remarkable element, ranging from chemistry and geoscience to engineering and industrial design. Ali argues that aluminum exemplifies broader lessons about stewardship of nonrenewable resources: its seeming abundance has given rise to wasteful and destructive practices. Soil to Foil follows aluminum’s path along the supply chain, from extraction to production, consumption to recycling. Ali explores the ecological damage at mine sites and visits affected communities seeking to restore the land. He foregrounds the possibilities for more sustainable industrial practices, emphasizing how product design can incorporate eventual reuse and recycling. Ultimately, Soil to Foil shows that the story of aluminum’s use and misuse helps us rethink how to sustainably manage the resources of our planet.


Aluminum―who knew? In Saleem H. Ali’s capable hands, the metal becomes the vehicle for an engrossing and enlightening explanation of how our world works―and how it might work much better. -- Bill McKibben, Right Livelihood Award-winning environmental author and Schumann Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Middlebury College

Soil to Foil lights the way for how to build net-positive companies and economies from the ground up. It holds the hand of courageous business leaders in setting an inspiring vision for circular systems and gently but firmly pushing back against basic misconceptions of physics, chemistry, and geology that stifle creativity. Aluminum is something we can all relate to, and Soil to Foil helps you see it and the world around you in a new light filled with abundant possibility. -- Rohitesh Dhawan, president and CEO, International Council on Mining and Metals

Soil to Foil shows the profound connections between the atomic properties of aluminum and the gigantic entanglements of the world we live in through economics, politics, environmental laws, science, technology, industrial design, advertising, and more. Ali admirably and skillfully guides us to a much deeper and more vital understanding of these subjects. -- Tyler Volk, professor emeritus, New York University, and author of Quarks to Culture: How We Came to Be

Soil to Foil considers the ‘extraction’ of the chemical processes used to turn aluminum ore into usable resources, fitting within a broader turn in the social sciences to considering the sociomaterial and sociotechnical dimensions of the world we live in. Ali persuasively shows why materiality and chemical composition matters for how aluminum ‘comes to be’ as a resource. -- Jessica M. Smith, Department of Engineering and Society, Colorado School of Mines

Hardcover | 320 pages | $35.00 USD | 9780231204484 | May 23, 2023