From Cans to Cars … Aluminum and Steel are Infinitely Recyclable

From Cans to Cars ... Aluminum and Steel are Infinitely Recyclable

Metal food and beverage cans are probably the most readily recyclable items in our homes and workplaces.  But not everyone knows the difference between these two kinds of metals or what happens to them once they’re collected.
“Tin cans” (think soup or canned vegetables) are actually made of steel with a thin coating of tin and were collected during World War II scrap drives to literally help build ships and tanks.  The aluminum beverage can made its debut in 1959 as a beer can.  Both steel and aluminum cans are infinitely recyclable and most of them are converted into new uses right here in the United States. 

Here are a few fun facts:

  • Because steel and aluminum retain their physical properties indefinitely and don’t lose strength during the recycling process, they can be recycled over and over in a true “closed loop”. 
  • Aluminum cans (non-ferrous metal) are separated at the MRF (Materials Recovery Facility) with an eddy-current separator which creates an electrical field to repel aluminum from other containers; steel cans (ferrous metal) are separated with a magnet.
  • Most steel cans go to recycling mills in the U.S. where they are converted into new steel for production of cars, bridge beams or new steel cans.
  • U.S. companies like Novelis and Alcoa turn aluminum cans into “can sheet” to make new cans, or auto-body sheet for new cars.
  • Nearly 75% of all aluminum produced in the U.S. is still in use today.
  • Aluminum use is on the rise in the craft beer industry; nearly 500 craft brewers use it to can more than 1,700 beers.
  • Making aluminum cans from recycled aluminum uses 95% less energy than making it with raw (virgin) aluminum.
  • It takes 75% less energy to make recycled steel than steel produced from raw materials


     (Sources: Can Manufacturers InstituteSteel Recycling Institute).