How are cans recycled?
See how food and drinks cans get recycled.
Many of the food and drink products we buy are packaged in cans made from either aluminium or steel and both of these materials can be recycled after we have finished with them to make either new cans or other products.
Did you know?
Recycling aluminium uses only around 5% of the energy and emissions needed to make it from the raw material bauxite. The metal can be recycled time and time again without loss of properties, so getting the aluminium recycling habit is one of the best things we can do for the environment.
Steel can also be recycled time and time again without loss of quality; by simply recycling our steel cans we can conserve non-renewable fossil fuels, reduce the consumption of energy and the emission of gasses like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
How is it recycled?
- Aluminium cans are shredded, removing any coloured coating.
- They are then melted in a huge furnace.
- The molten metal is poured into ingot casts to set. Each ingot can be made into around 1.5 million cans.
Aluminium foil is a different alloy and is usually recycled separately with other aluminium scraps to make cast items such as engine components, where it makes a big contribution to making vehicles lighter and more energy efficient.
- Steel cans are put into the furnace where molten iron is added.
- Oxygen is then blasted into the furnace which heats up to around 1700°C.
- The liquid metal is poured into a mould to form big slabs which are then rolled into coils.
- These coils are used to make all sorts of steel products such as bikes, cars, bridges, paperclips or even new food and drink cans.
Aluminium is a resource that forms about 8% of the earth's crust. It is mined and extracted from bauxite, which contains the compound alumina, in an energy-intensive electrolytic process. Four tonnes of bauxite contains two tonnes of alumina, which yields one tonne of valuable aluminium. The metal is used in buildings, transport and other industrial applications, as well as packaging.
Aluminium is the most cost-effective material to recycle, because of the huge energy savings - up to 95%. In addition, all the scraps left over from the aluminium production process can be melted down and used again and again. For this reason, recycling is part of the normal lifecycle for large industrial products - around 75% of all the aluminium ever made is still in circulation.
Recycling 1kg of aluminium saves up to:
- 6kg of bauxite
- 4kg of chemical products
- 14kWh of electricity.
Steel is made from one of the earth's most common natural resources, iron ore, as well as limestone and coal. Mining for these raw materials and the production process involved in making steel have an environmental impact. Not only does the process require large amounts of energy but raw materials are wasted when mining, and the production process also produces waste and emissions.
Steel can be recycled time and time again without loss of quality, so by simply recycling our steel we can:
- conserve non-renewable fossil fuels
- reduce the consumption of energy
- reduce the amount of raw materials being wasted
- reduce the emission of gasses like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Problems and issues
Both aluminium and steel are easy to recycle and there are huge environmental benefits for doing this - yet many cans still go to landfill. If we recycle more cans we can reduce the amount of raw materials needed to produce new products.
Remember to recycle drinks cans when away from home - at work, while travelling or at sports and leisure locations. If you can't find a recycling bin, take it home and recycle it later.
Rinse out food cans with your leftover washing up water before the residue has chance to dry out - it will take much less effort!
Check the recycling locator to see what you can recycle in your area.
Made from recycled
Aluminium drinks cans are usually recycled into ingots at a special 'closed-loop' plant in Warrington. This is the ultimate recycling process for environmental efficiency and used cans are often recycled, made into new cans, filled and put back on the shelf in just six weeks.
Foil and other aluminium is generally recycled with other aluminium scraps such as window frames and road signs, and cast into engine components for vehicles, which makes them lighter and more fuel efficient.
Recycled steel can be found in incredibly diverse variety of products including:
- bicycle frames
- train tracks
- ship hulls
- food and drinks cans.
Steel can be infinitely recycled and because it is such a widely used material, the ranges of possible uses for it are endless.