Happy National Tin Can Day!

Filed in Blog by on January 18, 2011 14 Comments
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Yes you can recycle your cans!

Yes you can recycle your cans!

As you know, there are various awareness campaigns throughout the year – everything from National Zero Waste Week (hurrah) to Vegan week to Aids awareness days.

But did you know that tomorrow was National Tin Can Day?

It might seem a little silly to have a day in praise of the tin can, but look at how it’s increased our ability to preserve foods and where would a University student be without a tin of baked beans in their kitchen cupboard?

Tin cans

Tin cans used for food storage are usually made of tin coated steel or aluminium however, some of the early cans were sealed with lead soldering, which funnily enough, resulted in lead poisoning.

The tin can was first patented in 1810. Apparently, Napoleon offered a prize for a successful method of preserving food for his armies who were getting weak due to lack of food.

Can openers

If lead poisoning isn’t enough to make the effort seem less than worthwhile, the first can opener wasn’t designed until 50 years after the first tin cans were manufactured! Back in the good old days you had to use knives, chisels or even rocks to puncture your tin and reach the delicious contents.

1 million cans a day

When the first tin cans were produced in the UK, the best craftsmen could produce up to 60 can a day. Nowadays, production lines are manufacturing over one million cans per day.

Tin can recycling

Steel and aluminium cans are one of the easiest materials to recycle. Many local authorities collect them from kerbsides or provide bring banks for recycling and it’s really worth the effort to recycle as many as you are able.

Metal recycling

Metals, unlike many other materials such as paper, can be recycled indefinitely without loosing any of their properties. Not only that, but the processes used to mine bauxite to make aluminium products uses a large amount of energy and corrodes the earth.  According to Tuft’s University, the mining of bauxite destroys more of the earth’s surface than the mining of any other ore.

Aluminium recycling

Recycling aluminium on the other hand, requires only 5% of the energy and produces only 5% of the CO2 emissions compared to primary production plus it reduces waste going to landfill. Aluminium can be recycled indefinitely, as reprocessing does not damage its structure. Aluminium is also the most cost-effective material to recycle.


Steel is mined from an ore which is stripped in a blast furnace to reduce it to pig iron that can then be used in steel production.

Each household uses approximately 600 steel cans per year and just one recycled tin can would save enough energy to power a television for 3 hours.

Can recycling

  • 51,000 tonnes of aluminium ends up as packaging in the UK each year.
  • If all cans in the UK were recycled, we would need 14 million fewer dustbins.
  • £36,000,000 worth of aluminium is thrown away each year.
  • Aluminium cans can be recycled and ready to use in just 6 weeks.

Recycle your cans

So there we go – the use of tin cans for food storage has made our food cupboards unrecognisable from 150 years ago. Remember that next time you tuck into some backed beans or a delightful tin of Spam and remember to recycle your cans too!

To celebrate National Tin Can Day, why not share your favourite recipe below using tinned food? Mine is a chickpea and red kidney bean balti and Little Miss Green is rather partial to sardines on toast…

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (14)

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  1. Antonio Pachowko says:

    Hi to all

    The main advantage of a tin Can is that it can store food for up to two years and as a result are handy in case of an emergency. I tend to eat a lot of pasta dishes and as a result (in the past) use tin cans to make tomato sauces but as I mainly shop at Sainsbury’s and they have gone to beverage cartons (tetra paks). I understand that some supermarkets are changing from tins to Cartons for their soups and other items and am wondering, what is better for the environment Tins or tetrapaks, as generally cartons are lighter but tins are more widely recycled? What is better in your opinion?

  2. Alyson says:

    I’ve noticed that about sainsburys. A bit irritating. I refuse to buy them but thats because we can’t recycle them in good ol’ tunbridge Wells!

  3. Ms Junket says:

    Excellent facts presented here. I live quite close to a Bauxite mine (well, it is in the Far North area where I live) and it braeks my heart that people do not look at the environmental rape and think, “Gee, I better start recycling before we lose all our country and animals.”

    We recycle everything that we possible can.

    Stumbled this post to help circulate the information.

  4. Mrs Green says:

    @Antonio Pachowko: The tins vs tetra pak arguement is not one I know much about. Maybe I’ll research it and see what I can find out 😉 I agree, tinned food is great for emergencies (and can’t be bothered to cook days 😉 )

    @Alyson: What a shame you can’t recycle tetra paks, Alyson; that must really cut down your shopping choices.

    @Ms Junket: Thanks for the Stumble! Wow, you live near a bauxite mine; that must be really something – it’s quite different to talk about something than experience it first hand …

  5. Janet says:

    In my opinion Kent is way behind in recycling (Ashford, ( so I’m told) does not even collect, or have plastic bottle recycling banks), and most parts of the countrys have tetra pak recycling, and I have asked why there is none in Kent, and if they are going to start one, and the answer is ” we have no plans to”. So I will try to avoid tetra paks, because if I get any, and I want to recycle them, it means going to Eastbourne from Folkestone to dispose of them.

  6. Jane says:

    Love them naked! A top Italian pizzeria who make sourdough pizzas in a wood-fired oven reuse large naked tins by putting all the cutlery on the tables in them. It is practical and looks good. I have used them for pens and pencils and have also used a rather nicely shaped pickle jar for this.

  7. Mrs Green says:

    @Janet: Hi Janet, the good news is that Nick, the Tetra Pak recycling officer has plans to get most of the LAs in the country picking up cartons from the kerbside and I think he is determined and committed to his goal 😉

    @Jane: I like the idea of cutlery on the tables! They look lovely with herbs grown in them too.

  8. Jane says:

    Filled with sand they make good outdoor ashtrays for those who will insist on smoking!

  9. Jane says:

    What I would really like to know is whether it is better to strip them of their paper label or not before recycling. I know we’re told we don’t have to – but the label often comes off/half off when rinsing out or squashing. So which is best: separating it for recycling when paper is worth little or leaving it on? In the recycling process – is any gain made from this paper that is perhaps more worthwhile – energy from waste or is it recycled as paper again?

  10. Mrs Green says:

    @Jane: I’ve never separated them Jane, unless, like you say the label falls off when rinsing.

  11. Poppy says:

    Unless they are stuck fast, labels from our tins/jars go either in with the compost or with the paper recycling.

  12. brian robson says:

    I always flatten cans,cutting both ends of first, this takes up less room in the skip,saving on the transport.

  13. Mrs Green says:

    @brian robson: Hi Brian, good to see you doing your bit to save space – it makes so much difference!

  14. Jane says:

    So good to find tuna packed in a can without masses of sunflower oil! A change so there isn’t all that smelly oil to pour away. Tuna in brine is of course filled with salt… So this is another step forward.

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