Why recycle aluminium cans?

Filed in by on June 1, 2008 29 Comments

Don’t bin your tin!

aluminium cans - do the environment a favour and recycle them!Five billion aluminium drink cans are sold in the UK every year and each one could be recycled over and over again, saving energy, raw materials and waste.

Why bother recycling?

Recycling is an important part of a sustainable lifestyle. It’s important for the future of the planet that we all live ‘sustainably’ – in other words make the best use of limited natural resources.

Burying rubbish which is made of materials that could be reused or recycled is not sustainable. Some of the materials deposited in landfill sites can have a detrimental impact on the environment over many years.

In the UK most of our rubbish is buried in landfill sites, but the amount of land available for this is running out fast.

Is mining aluminium bad for the environment?

Mining aluminium has several consequences for the environment and people’s health.

1- Mining disrupts the land

Aluminium doesn’t occur naturally in the earth’s crust, it has to be extracted from its ore – bauxite – which is mined and then smelted in a very energy-intensive process. Although great care is taken to rebuild the land after mining, changes do occur as a result of mining that are detrimental to the surrounding environment.

2- Mining affects the environment

Mining bauxite disrupts rain forests, results in the loss of habitat for plant and animal species, erodes the soil and severely affects the water retention capability of the soil. In addition, the degradation of Jamaica’s delicate coral reefs along its south coast is as a result of alumina spilling during ship loading

3- Mining has health consequences for locals

Caustic soda is used to extract alumina from raw bauxite. In some areas in Jamaica this has leached into the groundwater supply, increasing the sodium content of domestic water supply, resulting in increased cases of hypertension amongst residents. Dust clouds from the industry adversely affects the respiratory system of locals

Why bother recycling aluminium?

1- Less energy

Compared to mining and smelting, recycling aluminium drink cans is far less energy intensive. Recycling aluminium requires only 5% of the energy and produces only 5% of the CO2 emissions as compared with primary production.
A recycled aluminium can saves enough energy to run a television for three hours.

2- Less raw materials

Recycling aluminium reduces the need to mine bauxite, which, as we have seen, can have negative consequences for the surrounding areas and the people living there.

3- Less landfill

Keeping anything out of the landfill is a bonus! With an estimated nine years worth of landfill space in the UK, we all need to recycle more and keep things out of the landfill. If all of these cans were recycled there would be 14 million fewer dustbins emptied into the country’s landfill sites every year.

4- Cost effective

Aluminium can be recycled indefinitely, as reprocessing does not damage its structure. Aluminium is also the most cost-effective material to recycle.

5- Easy to recycle

Aluminium cans are one of the easiest materials to recycle. New drinks cans appear on the shelf just six weeks after recycling!

Is it easy to recycle aluminium drinks cans at home?

Most local authorities will recycle drinks cans. All you need to do is rinse the tin out and pop it in the correct receptacle at your local recycling amenity. Some county councils will collect from your kerbside, so check out Recycle Now to see if this is the case for your area.

Recycling aluminium cans is a great way to get reluctant kids on board if you put them in charge of a can crusher! They can flex their muscles, get rid of aggression and be doing something positive for the environment or favourite charity in the process. Click on the can crusher to buy!

Did you know?

Currently 42% of aluminium drinks cans are recycled in the UK. Although this is a great improvement on the 2% recycled in 1989, there were still a massive 3 billion cans that were landfilled. Switzerland and Finland recycle over 90% of their cans.

You can collect cans for charity. Aluminium is the most valuable packaging material in everyday use and there are nearly 300 places in the UK that will gladly collect your cans to turn into cash.
If every aluminium can sold in the UK was recycled through cash for cans it would raise over £30 million for charities, groups and good causes.
Check out Alupro for details of your nearest charity collection point. If you are a school or business interested in setting up your own collection then all the information you need can be found on the website.

As a further incentive to everyone to get recycling, a nationwide Alupro campaign promises to plant fruit trees in Malawi for every tonne recycled.

Sources and further information

Big Green Switch
Waste Online
Think cans
Recycle Now
American Education Trade and Environment Database

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Comments (29)

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  1. Samantha says:

    In your area, is there a deposit for cans? In Michigan, whenever you buy pop in a can or bottle, there is an extra ten cent fee for each package. Then, you return the bottles to the store and you get your money back. It’s not much, but it does add up, and I think more people recycle because of it.

  2. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Samantha,

    Great to see you. Alas there is no deposit for cans over here in the UK. We remember when we were children being able to get a deposit on large glass bottles that soft drinks came in, but those days are long gone!

    I think it would be a great ‘first step’ to encourage people to recycle more and would welcome a revival of this tradition. I believe the odd place offers it, but it’s not commonplace anymore.

    it’s great that you have this in Michigan

  3. Mike says:

    Here in the UK, recycling is ridiculous.

    Go to Scandinavia, and there is a markup on every can or bottle. You get this back as cash when returning it to the store.

    To give people a real incentive, all that is required is for them to get the cash rewards directly, not the local council.

  4. Mr Green says:

    The Scandinavians have got that exactly right, Mike. Just like we use to do some years ago with glass bottles, they had a returns value. Why did that ever stop??? As a child it was a favourite past time to collect old Tizer bottles from wherever and get money from the shop. It’s a self-sustaining cleanup recycling system.

    I fully agree with a ‘reward for return’ system that encourages people to appreciate the real value of these materials.

    Thanks for your comment

  5. Mrs Green says:

    Hello Mike,
    Welcome to the site and thank you for your comment. I do feel that we are way behind over here. Even just across the water in Ireland they are streets ahead with their plastic bag tax – which has shown to produce a massive reduction in plastic carrier bag use.

    The idea that Scandinavia have in place is just what I imagine to be a successful and workable model. And I’m sure many people would support that.

  6. Jane says:

    You have to walk past the bring banks to go into and out of the park and yet people leave these cans just lying around! I think there should be an extra tax on them.

  7. Mrs Green says:

    @Jane: A deposit would be a fine idea on aluminium. Such a shame that people litter when a recycling bin is nearby

  8. Poppy says:

    One huge use of foil that I haven’t read anything about, is at the hairdressers for colours and highlights. I did ask sometime ago at the local college and I was told that they ‘just’ throw them away. This is not your ordinary light weight stuff, this is good quality. I’m sure the nasties could be washed off without too much bother.

    @Jane: I often pick up cans and bottles on my daily dog walk. I’d rather not, if you know what I mean, but it’s no great hardship. Gawd knows what our collection guys think when they empty my recycling bin though 😀

  9. Mrs Green says:

    @Poppy: Oh Poppy – good one on the hairdresser foil; I hadn’t thought of that one – but I bet they can’t do anything due to contamination issues.

  10. Jane says:

    @Poppy: Yes, I’ve done this too and gone on litter-picks. I’m amazed how people can just step over litter on their doorstep because ‘it’s not mine’. We need to step out of these personal bubbles. We share this world.

  11. katxxx says:

    i am seriously gonna start recycling cans and whats more i am in the UK and close to me they pay 2p a can after a while that could add up to an 11 year old like me
    i was out today and , once i counted i could of earned £4.76!

  12. Poppy says:


    That’s brilliant Katxxx. Good luck with your new project. I’ve found that the amount I see dumped varies according to the weather. A nice warm weekend and the numbers in the local parks go up masses. 🙂

  13. Mrs Green says:

    @katxxx: Katxx, I think you are an entrepreneur. I’ve never found anywhere that pays for cans, so good luck to you. Where is the company who pay you?

  14. Jane says:

    Alupro and Novelis pay for can collections – which can be a useful earner for charities or organisations (we did it for our parent + child org 20 yrs ago). Market prices – so the amount of money varies but you do gain more than just money. So much per can as they seem to do in Sweden seems an even better incentive for individual people to take responsibility for their own. It would be good if these machines also allowed you to donate to charity (especially if it was a local one). Remember that recycling your cans in you Local Authority kerbside or can bank collection helps to keep your Council Tax down. Some Councils allow charities/local voluntary organisations to ‘adopt’ a can bank.

  15. Mrs Green says:

    @Jane: Thanks for the info, Jane; I’ll take a look at the sites and see what I can find out.

  16. Jim Malard says:

    I have been collecting cans for years and selling them to my local Alcan centre. The more you can store the better the rates you can get (although it has fluctuated a lot) I bought a small can baler which allows me to store 500 cans into a 30cm square bale. That way I dont have to keep going to the recycling centre every couple of days. I have my neighbours and local pubs leaving them out for me to collect. As they say “one mans trash is another mans cash” and can recycling is easy.

  17. Jane says:

    @Poppy: I know what you mean. You often find them sitting on a wall where some lazy person has been sitting and drinking just yards from a can bank. You could leave them to be eventually swept up or seeing them as the resource they are just pop them in that can bank or in your recycling. If you do get involved you gain the satisfaction they’ve been disposed of correctly to everyone’s benefit and you can create improve and enjoy a litter-free environment. You just have to know your limits!

  18. Poppy says:

    @Jane: It’s not that Jane. My first motivation for picking up cans, was seeing what happened to those left on grass. Many years ago, my brother cut his foot open when running about in bare feet! One of my dogs also suffered a cut pad. The people that do the mowing are supposed to pick them up rather than mow straight over them, but understandably, this doesn’t always happen. Not enough hours in the day etc…..

    If I find any shredded ones, I pick those up too, but sadly have to put them into the nearest bin. They’re lethal!

  19. Mrs Green says:

    @Jim Malard: Awesome Jim – good for you 🙂

    Poppy, I am sitting here with my toes curled, reading your story. Ewwww.

  20. Jane says:

    Hungary’s toxic sludge and a canned drink – what’s the connection? This should be a wake-up call to us to make more effort to recycle all that aluminium that could be and isn’t. I’d be interested to hear who fares worst in answering that question – adults, school children or students!

  21. andy burnside says:

    @Jim Malard: hi Jim, where did you get your can bailer and how much was it please? Email me please. andy.burnside @ hotmail.co.uk Thanks

  22. Jim Malard says:

    Hi andy, I just sent you an email. anyone else interested it is http://www.jbsbalers.co.uk It costs about £1000
    It saves me loads of space. it does about 12 bags into 1

  23. andy says:

    can anyone tell the rest of us where the best place to recycle cans is. Also who is paying the best rate per can or per kilo please. I know the going rate is 40p-50p per kilo, but does anyone know anything better? Many thanks.

  24. ballen says:


    I really do agree, I live in Sweden and we have the recycle system here for at least 35 years for aluminium cans.
    In allmost every food shop were they sell beer or what ever tapped on aluminium cans, you can return your can, and get a standard price at 10p for each can.. you put the can in a recykle maskin and recive a receipt.. Then its up to you if you whant to use that when shopping or just take out the money.. I think is a smart system, and no losses of money in the process.. so stupid to poison our world …

  25. Jane says:

    Warm weather and the piggies are out again in the park. They just get up and walk away from their waste. Bring stuff for a picnic and then don’t even collect it up. It really does need a little film run backwards.

  26. Jane says:

    @ballen: Good to hear your input. People will just put down their cans and leave them – obviously if they got money back for them most wouldn’t.

  27. ballen says:

    @Jane: Yes, you never see those cans in the environment, pavements or parks. Those cans will always be picked up by the people, greedy kids etc.. haha . And people don´t use to throw those in the trash either..

  28. Thys says:

    from South Africa .well i took recycling n bit further , to gain more weight per kg ,i did build a furnis from scrap metal and find that i can save ons storing space for the cans , by melt them in a muffin pan and double +the kg per bag R then presed can’s.
    happy recycling and enjoy

  29. Thys says:

    i would like to know of buyers for my aluminium cullets the are very clean 60mm wide and 25/30mm high, offer me a price @ R per kg..love to hear from other melters project’s

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