How to Recycle Tin Cans

Recycling tin cans is usually a straightforward process that involves preparing the cans properly and finding a nearby recycling facility.

By Maryruth Belsey-Priebe

Fact checked by Sander Tamm

Recycling Tin Cans
Recycling Tin Cans / Sander Tamm / Ecolife

An Overview On Recycling Tin Cans

If you’ve ever opened a can of refried beans or a tin of corn, you’ve consumed food out of a tin can. As common as anything in our kitchen pantries, tin cans are a very popular form of food packaging and can be used for anything from vegetables to fruits to soups to prepared foods. Tin cans are also used to package potentially toxic things like paint, cleaning products, and other household items.

But don’t confuse your tin cans with aluminum cans. You can tell which one you have by doing a simple magnet test – you have packaging made from aluminum metal if it does not attract magnets, or steel tin cans when it does attract magnets. In addition to the use of steel as the base material, tin cans are lined with a layer of the metal known as tin. Tin and steel are separated through both chemical and electrical steps during the recycling process in order to batch the materials separately for use in new product production.

Preparing tin cans for recycling

Getting your tin cans ready for recycling may or may not be involved, depending on the requirements of your local recycling authority. Be sure to find out how you should prepare your cans before throwing them in the bin to avoid injury and contamination of the recycling load. Your recycling program may require some or all of the following steps to be taken:

  • Empty all product from the can
  • Rinse them so that they are clean of all food or product debris
  • Remove labels
  • Pinch open side so that lids cannot slip into the cans
  • Ensure tin can lids do not have sharp edges – use a safe/smooth edge can opener.

Recycling tin cans

Once you’ve prepared your cans for recycling, you’ll need to find a way to get them recycled! These are the most common tin can recycling options:

  • Curbside and drop-off recycling: Many, if not most, communities in the US, Canada, and the UK now have either curbside or drop-off recycling programs, and tin cans are usually at the top of the list of things accepted. Check around to see what’s offered in your community for tin recycling.
  • Buyback programs: Like soda cans, there are often buyback programs for recycling tin cans and other steel products. Search for “tin recycling” or “steel recycling” online to find facilities in your community.
  • Household waste: Some communities will use magnetic systems to remove tin and steel from the trash in order to recycle it or use it in a waste-to-energy facility. If this is the case in your community, you can feel good about putting them with the rest of your household waste.