Recycling steel cans

Steel cans – such as the ones your baked beans come out of – are easily recycled. Britain uses around 12.5 billion steel cans every year, but we only manage to recycle around half of them.

On average, your household gets through 600 steel cans every year, that’s about two per day. But what happens to your cans when you recycle them?

Steel is an alloy material made up of iron and carbon. The difference between steel cans and aluminium drinks cans is that the steel one attracts magnets. That’s a useful thing to know when it comes to recycling. Steel cans are much sturdier than aluminium ones – you can usually crush an old drink can in one hand. A steel can takes a lot more effort.

That means you can recycle your aluminium drinks cans in the same bin as steel cans. Large magnets at the recycling plant literally pull the steel cans out of the mass of waste, and they can be taken elsewhere to be reprocessed.

Like aluminium cans, steel cans are 100% recyclable. But the difference is that the reclaimed steel need not necessarily go to new cans the way that aluminium cans are. The steel can be used for virtually any process where good quality steel is required – such as in the building of new cars. You could actually be driving about in something that was once a baked bean tin.

While about two-thirds of all cans sold are made of steel, they don’t necessarily have to contain food. Steel is also used for paint cans, biscuit tins, and things sold in aerosols. Because steel is so widely used, only about a quarter of the average food can contains recycled steel. However, the material can be infinitely recycled, but the ingots produced need not necessarily go to a can-making plant.

We’re also using a third less steel to make cans nowadays. Thanks to improvements in technology, the walls of food cans are now wafer thin, and a can weighs around 21 grams (that’s less than an ounce).

With lighter cans and a push to increasing recycling rates, we’re using less steel in food cans than before, which is great news for the environment.