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Planet & People: Why Tin Cans?
About Steel "Tin" Cans
You have probably heard steel cans referred to as tin cans or "tins". Steel cans are often called tin cans because they are usually coated with a thin layer of tin, which protects the food inside. Steel is mined from an ore. Iron ore is plentiful but it is usually combined with oxygen or sometimes carbon or sulphur. The iron ore is stripped in a blast furnace to reduce it to pig iron that can then be used in steel production.
Steel is the most recycled material in the United States. Steel dominates the recycling mix because every year the steel industry recycles huge amounts of steel scrap from cars, appliances, and torn-down buildings and bridges. Today, all steel products are made with some recycled steel.
Steel recycling saves a lot of energy. It is much more energy efficient to use steel scrap to make new steel than to mine the iron ore and then smelt it in a blast furnace. It takes about 60 percent less energy to make steel from recycled materials than it does from iron ore. That's why today's steel makers always use some steel scrap to make new steel products.
Steel is probably the easiest material to separate from the rest of the solid waste stream. Steel is attracted to magnets, so special magnetic belts can be used to separate steel cans from other recyclables. This is a much more efficient method than the labor-intensive hand-sorting necessary with other recyclables, such as plastics.
Recycling your used steel cans at home is easy. All you need to do is rinse the food from the cans. If you're not sure which cans are steel and which are aluminum, use a magnet to separate them. Steel will stick to the magnet; aluminum will not. If you come across a can with a steel body and an aluminum top (called a bimetal can) put the can with the steel recyclables.
After steel scrap is collected from homes, recycling centers, or waste-to-energy plants, it is shipped to one of the companies that buy old steel - steel mills, iron and steel foundries, scrap dealers, and detinners. Detinners remove the layer of tin from old steel cans. This tin is valuable and can be sold.
Steel can recycling follows almost the same process as aluminum can recycling. Steel cans, along with other steel scrap, are melted in a furnace and then poured into casters that continuously roll and flatten the steel into sheets. Recycled steel cans can be made into new cars, girders for buildings, or new food cans. In the U.S., steel cans and other steel products contain at least 25% recycled steel, with some containing nearly 100% recycled steel.
Like aluminum, steel can also be recycled again and again. It does not lose any of its strength or quality in the recycling process. It can be a never-ending process that continues to save energy and resources.
To learn more about steel and steel recycling go to:
You can also visit our Resources & Links page.
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