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Episode 4: Finding the Value in Metal Recycling

In our latest episode of Unpacking Recycling with Charlotte, we cover all things metal. From what to do with those little tabs on metal cans and K-cup lids, to whether it is better to buy metal vs. plastic packaging, Charlotte answers your most pressing questions and offers helpful tips.

Liz Bothwell

March 8, 2022

In our latest episode of Unpacking Recycling with Charlotte, we cover all things metal. From what to do with those little tabs on metal cans and K-cup lids, to whether it is better to buy metal vs. plastic packaging, Charlotte answers your most pressing questions and offers helpful tips.

Here is a glimpse into the insightful chat:

Waste360: Metals are certainly a valuable resource. So, let’s dig into this topic!

Dreizen: Yes, it’s such an exciting topic, and metals are a material people feel strongly about and equate with infinite recyclability—and it’s true. We can recycle it again and again with little to no degradation. It’s really incredible to think, for instance, that the steel we’ve used over the past century, the majority of it is still in use.

Waste360: What are people getting right—and wrong—about metal recycling?

Dreizen: When folks think about metal and whether it can be recycled, a lot of people think, “It’s made of metal; it’s a valuable material and a recycling commodity”—and of course that’s true, but unfortunately not everything made of metal can be put into that blue bin. Every once in a while here in D.C. I’ve seen a golf club put into a bin—but unfortunately that size and shape is just something our recycling facilities can’t handle. Likewise, some metal components like keys or coins—people are always curious about whether these can be recycled—and we know these are just too small, unfortunately, to be recycled in our curbside system. But, some hardware stores may have dedicated programs to take keys back and recycle them, which is really wonderful.

Waste360: Can you share some tips to help people do a better job with their metal-recycling efforts?

Dreizen: One strategy revolves around how you pack down metal. A lot of people will squish aluminum foil down into a tiny ball, really compress it as far as they can, and then toss it in the blue bin. I appreciate the sentiment that, “I want to save space in my blue bin and recycle everything I can,” but something like an aluminum foil ball is often just too small to be handled at the recycling facility. So, what I recommend folks do is to keep things to at least the size of a baseball. You can pack the aluminum foil down; you just don’t want to make it so small.

Also: the tabs on aluminum cans…these are too small on their own, so you’d want to toss these back into the can before putting it all in the blue bin. Also, a can lid…if you can keep it attached when you open the main container, that is helpful. I also get a lot of questions about how clean metal containers need to be when they do into the bin. And, because metal is heated to such a high temperature, we have a little more leeway than when we’re recycling, say, plastic. 

Waste360: What is the question you get most often about metal recycling?

Dreizen: I think what I get asked most has to do with packaging that has some metal but isn’t made primarily of metal. For instance, the aluminum foil tops on coffee pods. We know that is of course too small, and I share with folks that—while those lids would be recyclable if they could be saved and rolled up into a ball that is large enough—alone it’s too small.

About the Author(s)

Liz Bothwell

Head of Content & Marketing, Waste360

Liz Bothwell is head of content and marketing for Waste360, proud host of the NothingWasted! Podcast, and ghostwrites for others to keep her skills sharp and creative juices flowing. She loves family, football, her French bulldogs, and telling stories that can help to make the world a more sustainable place.

Follow her on Linkedin or Twitter

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