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How to Recycle Metals the Right Way!

How to Recycle Metals the Right Way!

How To Recycle the Right Way

Last Updated on April 9, 2020

Recycling should be a last resort. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know it’s a recurring theme. 

Before we get to recycling, we should first reduce and reuse. These R’s are often forgotten because they’re not actionable. How can you quantify reducing and reusing? How can you see the fruits of your labor? 

Recycling is easy because it is so actionable. It’s easy to recycle because it’s tangible and we humans love to see physical, instant progress. We’re not so keen on abstract ideas like reduce and reuse.

Nonetheless, recycling is still an important part of the process. Like we talked about a couple of weeks ago. China put a ban on our paper and plastic imports with a contamination rate over 1% at the beginning of 2018. 

Metal is is the most valuable of all the recyclable materials. Unfortunately, metal is up on the chopping block next. I’m not telling you this so that you stop recycling. I’m telling you this so you can recycle better! 

We haven’t been the most diligent recyclers (hence, the ban), so I’m hoping that through this new series we can recycle better and learn to depend on recycling less. 

aluminum cans:

Aluminum cans are the most valuable and recyclable thing in your bin. It’s light like plastic creating less emission when distributed, and unlike plastic, aluminum is infinitely recyclable without any loss of quality. 

An aluminum can, can go from the curbside bin to the store shelf in as little as 60 days. 

Aluminum cans typically contain drinks, so after you’ve finished your drink tap out the excess moisture, and they’re good to be placed in your curbside bin. The cans don’t need to be crushed. 

aluminum foil: 

Aluminum foil is reusable! If you have it, use it until it starts to flake and fall apart. And, don’t forget about any aluminum pie tins or baking dishes. 

Wash any food scraps off of the foil and let it dry. Once it’s dry, ball the aluminum foil up until it’s a ball at least 2″ in diameter. If it’s any smaller, it can get lost and wind up in the landfill. 

Common items you might not think of with aluminum foil include:

  • butter wrappers like Kerrygold
  • chocolate wrappers inside of bars or chocolate bunnies or eggs etc.

pop tabs: 

With aluminum cans come pop tabs which weren’t originally attached to the can. You’d pop open the can and then discard (often litter) the pop top separately. 

The tabs are aluminum, and too small to be incorporated into the recycling process, and even though they’re attached to our cans in modern times. Certain charities still accept them as donations. 

You can send your tabs to the Ronald McDonald House where they handle the recycling for you, and the money they get from recycling goes to house families. 

steel cans:

90% of all the cans in the super market are made from steel. Things like canned tomatoes, a can of chickpeas, or a can of coconut milk are all steel. 

You don’t have to remove the paper label from your steel can before recycling. When the cans are recycled they are subjected to very, very high temps that burn the labels off.

You can test whether or not your can is steel by using a magnet. Steel is magnetic; aluminum is not. 

When recycling plants sort metals they do it with magnets. The magnet will pick up the steel, and the aluminum will be left behind. 

As far as cans go, you need to rinse them before putting them in the recycle bin. You don’t want to leave food particles in the can as it can contaminate the bale. 

steel can lids:

Steel can lids are recyclable, but if you don’t have a smooth edge can opener*, you shouldn’t throw them in the bin. 

Most recycling is still sorted by hand. Before you put anything in the bin you should ask yourself, would I feel safe just grabbing this? If the answer is no, you have to find another way. 

You have two options, you can take it to a transfer station for separate recycling or you can shove the lid down inside of the steel can and crimp the opening ensuring that the lid won’t escape. 

bottle caps:

Bottle caps for beer or sodas that come in glass jars can be metal or aluminum. You’ll have to test it by using a magnet, and separate the steel caps from the aluminum caps.

You’ll want to store steel caps inside of a steel can and aluminum caps inside of an aluminum one. 

Fill the can half way full with the caps, and then place the lid of the can on top of the caps. Then crimp the opening of the can ensuring the caps and lid can’t escape. You can now recycle this in your curbside bin. 

lids from glass bottles:

Lids on glass bottles, like pasta sauce or tahini, are often made from steel. You can unscrew those from the glass bottles, and place them in the recycle bin. The lids are large enough they aren’t going to be lost.

Typically those lids are lined with a very thin layer of plastic. Because of the high-temps used to recycle metal, it’s burned off. (Another reason why recycling shouldn’t be the first line of defense.)

razor blades:

One of my favorite zero waste swaps has been a safety razor, but when you have a safety razor… what do you do with all the blades?

You’ll need to take razor blades to a transfer station that handles metal recycling with machines only. 

If you’re in Northern California, I go to the Concord Recycling Center. Get a steel can that contains broth only. Cut a slot in the top of the can big enough for a blade to slip through, and pour the broth out. Rinse with water and leave the can to dry for a day or two. 

Obviously, there’s no way of completely guaranteeing it to be dry, but that’s alright. Drop you used blades into the slot. Once it’s full put a piece of tape over the slot and take it to your nearest metal recycling facility. 

other metal scraps: 

For other metal scraps, I recommend going to your transfer station or giving your local waste management plant a call. 


These are the most common practices across the US, but every recycling facility accepts different materials. It’s always best to go online to your waste management companies website or give them a call! 

Up next in this series, I will be covering paper and plastic. Let me know if there are any others that you’d like to see. 

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