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.
Why is it important to recycle cans?
Both steel and aluminium can be recycled time and time again without losing any quality and more and more people are recycling their cans which helps to conserve non-renewable fossil fuels, reduce the consumption of energy and the emission of gasses like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
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, using around only 5% of the energy and emissions needed to make it from the raw material bauxite.
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.
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 and reduce the amount of raw materials being wasted.
How are cans recycled?
Aluminium cans are shredded, removing any coloured coating. They are then melted in a huge furnace and 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.
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.
How are recycled cans used?
Aluminium drinks cans are usually recycled into ingots at a special 'closed-loop' plant in Warrington which can be 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.
Steel can be infinitely recycled and because it is such a widely used material, the ranges of possible uses for it are endless. It can be found in an incredibly diverse variety of products from train tracks and cars to bicycle frames and paperclips, and of course new food and drinks cans.
How to recycle food tins and drinks cans
Many other aluminium and steel items can be recycled along with food tins and drink cans, including aerosols, foil take-away trays and tomato puree tubes, yet many still go to landfill. If we recycle more cans we can reduce the amount of raw materials needed to produce new products.