The Steel Can
Content and images courtesy of recycle-steel.org.
Steel recycling starts in the home. Americans use 100 million steel cans each day. During that same day, more than 67 million cans are recycled by steel companies throughout North America.
What are steel cans?
We rely on steel packaging for our food to be in durable, tamper resistant containers. You may not realize it, but you probably use at least one steel can every day. You may hear them called tin cans, metal cans or aluminum cans but most food cans are truly made of steel. Steel cans package a variety of products, including fruits, vegetables, soups, sauces, and meats. Steel cans are also something else— recyclable.
An important distinction should be made between recyclable and recycled for materials. While almost any product can say it is recyclable in some fashion, most materials boast a very low, intensive recycling process. Steel, on the other hand, is continuously and efficiently RECYCLED. In fact, more steel is recycled each year than paper, plastic aluminum and glass combined. When steel is recycled, it conserves energy, natural resources as well as making the process more financially sustainable.
Steel can recycling
Through curbside collection, drop-off sites or multi-material buyback recycling centers, communities collect steel cans and materials. A recycling truck hauls them to a material recovery facility (MRF). At the MRF, the steel cans are magnetically separated from the other recyclables, crushed into large cubes called bales, and then shipped to steel mills or foundries for recycling. The steel cans are then combined with other steel scrap from other recycling locations, taken to a steel mill and melted in a furnace to make new steel for many new steel products which can include automobiles, appliances, construction materials or another container.
While many packaging materials have to be “downcycled” into lesser products, steel can be continuously recycled into any common steel product without a loss of quality.
Many steel products are recycled every day. Steel from appliances, automobiles and construction materials is routinely recycled. Each year, more than 80 percent of the steel the domestic industry produces is recycled. That’s a lot of steel!
Benefits of recycled steel
Recycling steel helps save landfill space while providing a valuable scrap resource to the steel industry. Using old steel to make new steel also preserves natural resources and energy. For every ton of steel recycled, 2,500 pounds of iron ore, 1,400 pounds of coal and 120 pounds of limestone are conserved. And in a year, the steel industry conserves the equivalent energy to power about 18 million homes for 12 months or enough to provide the city of Los Angeles power for roughly eight years.