Can I recycle steel cans? | FAQs - Canned GOOD

Waste less, recycle more with steel food cans

Frequently Asked Questions
(So glad you asked!)

Ever wake up in the middle of the night wanting to know the recyclability rate of a steel can? Well, you’ve come to the right place…

Can I recycle steel food cans?

Why yes. Yes, you can. You most certainly can.

How do I recycle steel cans?

It’s super easy. Just rinse them and drop them into a recycling bin. The recycling professional will take it from there.

Why are there such big differences in recycling rates with various materials?

To put it simply, not all materials are as easy to recycle as steel cans. Some materials have complex numerical sorting systems or aren’t metallic, so they can’t be sorted by magnets. And other hard-to-recycle materials frequently get contaminated or are difficult to sort.

How can I determine which of the products and materials that I use in my home will be recycled by my local program?

Go to to find out your specific recycling guidelines.

Why is it important to only put items that can be recycled into the recycling bin?

Because non-recyclable materials can contaminate recyclable materials or make it more difficult to properly sort them, resulting in some recyclable materials not actually getting recycled. In fact, some recycling centers will trash an entire bin of recycling if it has too much non-recyclable material in it. Which is unfortunate. But hey, it’s totally avoidable with just a little effort. 

Steel cans are relatively heavy. Doesn’t that contribute to their environmental impact?

While steel cans are heavier than some packaging material, newer-generation steel food cans are now 46% lighter than they were 30 years ago and still as durable as ever. And as steel gets recycled, its environmental impact is further reduced. Steel is the most recycled food packaging in the United States. In fact, when a steel can is made from recycled material instead of virgin material, it produces 78% less greenhouse gas emissions.

Doesn’t it take a lot of energy to produce steel?

The amount of energy needed to produce steel has dropped significantly, thanks to new technologies and efficiencies in production. And the superior recycling rates of steel cans — plus the fact that 75% of all steel ever produced is still in use today — minimizes the amount of new virgin steel that needs to be produced in order to meet demand.

How does using cans reduce the number of single-use packages in landfills?

Unlike steel cans, most types of single-use packaging cannot be recycled and inevitably end up in a landfill. So, every time you buy food in a steel can instead of food in another type of packaging, you are choosing a package that is infinitely recyclable versus one that is more likely to end up in a landfill.

How can recycling rates be improved?

There are many sides to this. First, it requires community leadership and implementation of systems that encourage and facilitate recycling. At all levels, we need to prioritize a solid, reliable infrastructure that works. Second, education. People need to know the environmental impact of not recycling and what they can and should be doing to help. And third, we all need to do our own part to recycle better. And by “better,” we mean, properly and consistently. The fact that you are reading this suggests that you are already doing your part. (Yay! Keep it up!)

How do steel cans help fight food waste?

Great question! Steel cans fight food waste a few ways. First, steel cans keep food at peak freshness, maintaining quality for up to five years! (Much longer than vegetables and fruit from the produce section… ohhh, the wilt guilt!) Second, many recipes call for can-sized quantities, so the whole can is used when meal prepping, which helps reduce food wasted.

How do steel canned goods stack up against fresh or frozen food?

In addition to eliminating the food waste that comes with fresh food (which is more than 2.2 billion pounds of food saved every year versus food packaged for refrigerators or freezers), choosing canned goods eliminates millions of tons of CO2 due to transport, refrigeration, and other factors.

What’s the amount of energy required to store steel cans in my cupboard?

Okay, so that’s a softball question if there ever was one. The answer is 0 kilowatts of refrigeration energy. Canned food requires no refrigeration from harvest all the way to mealtime. On the other hand, think of all the CO2 required to keep fresh food refrigerated from harvesting it to transporting it (often in planes, trucks, and trains) to keeping it cold in the fridge at your house.