What do you need to know about recycling steel?
STEEL FACT: Steel cans generally contain at least 25% recycled steel. Many have more than that.
Today, steel is the most common material recycled in the United States. Each year Americans recycle more steel than aluminum, glass, paper and plastic combined in weight. In 2012, 88 percent of steel scrap in the waste stream was recycled, which amounted to more than 84 million tons. Steel scrap comes from cars, appliances, torn-down buildings, and household items like cans. Today, all new steel products include some recycled steel in their composition.
In 1809, a Frenchman invented a process to package preserved food in cans. Soon after, tinplated cans were produced in Britain. Cans allowed soldiers to travel with food that was safe to eat. Unfortunately, the first can opener wasn’t invented for another 50 years. Leaving soldiers with the task of opening cans by any means they could find – hammers, bayonets, even shooting them!
With the first steel beer can in 1938, the modern use of steel packaging for perishable foods took off. Some people call these “tin cans,” due to the thin layer of tin coating used to protect the food in the can.
Recycling household steel products is important because it saves massive amounts of energy and reduces the need to mine for iron ore to produce new steel. It takes about 75 percent less energy to make steel from recycled materials than it does from iron ore – enough energy in a year to power 18 million homes.
Steel is easy to separate from the rest of the solid waste stream for recyclers because it is attracted to magnets. Magnetic belts can be used to pick up the steel, which is much more efficient than hand-sorting.
Recycling steel cans at home is easy: just rinse the can out and add to your recycling bin.
Where can you recycle steel?
Many residential recycling programs accept steel cans. You may also have other steel products that you would like to recycle. Use the Steel Recycling Institute’s Steel Recycling Locator to find a location where you can recycle steel cans, cars, appliances, construction steel and iron, and aerosols.
The Numbers: Steel
- Steel cans generated: 2.23 million tons / Recycled: 1.61 million tons (72.2%)
- Source reduction: Steel cans have one third less metal than they did 20 years ago.
- A ton of recycled steel saves 2,500 pounds of iron ore, 1,400 pounds of coal and 120 pounds of limestone, the raw materials used for making new steel.
- Steel cans generally contain at least 25 percent recycled steel.
 Steel Recycling Institute