What are tin cans made from?

‘Tin’ cans are actually made from steel which is a mixture of iron and carbon. They are called tin cans because a thin layer of a metal called tin is coated over the steel. This layer protects the food that is put in the can. Steel is magnetic, which is useful in recycling because it means steel cans can easily be separated from aluminium cans, which are not magnetic.

What are the benefits of recycling tin cans?

  • Provides a useful material – steel can be recycled endlessly, so steel cans could be turned into beams for buildings, parts of a car or dishwasher.
  • Saving energy – recycling cans saves huge amounts of energy compared to making them from scratch because of the effort needed to get small amounts of metal from huge amounts of rock.

Wow fact: It takes about 75% less energy to recycle steel than to make it from iron ore.

How are tin cans recycled?

  • Cans are collected from homes and recycling banks.
  • They are taken to a recycling depot where a huge magnet is used to separate steel cans from aluminium cans.
  • The steel is then crushed and baled.
  • It is sent to a reprocessing company where the layer of tin needed for protection is removed.
  • To make things like cans and cars, the steel is put into a furnace where molten iron is added, this uses a minimum of 25% recycled steel.
  • Oxygen is then blasted into the furnace, which heats up to around 1700°C – this is hotter then a volcano!
  • The heat makes the metal a liquid that can be poured into moulds to form big slabs.
  • The slabs are rolled into coils that are then sent off to be used to make more cans, cars and dishwashers.
  • Steel can also be made into structural beams for constructing buildings using 100% recycled steel.

Where can you recycle tin cans?

In Devon cans are collected from your home by your local Council using a recycling bin, box or bag. Collection systems vary. To find out more about what you can recycle and where it is recycled in your area click here.


To increase understanding of how we use our worlds resources, take a look into our Material World lesson plans.