Metal recycling

You may not think there’s much of a difference between the different types of metals that are made into cans, but each has its own properties and uses. Here, we explain how to tell aluminium from steel.

Is it aluminium?

  • Aluminium cans are mainly used for drinks – most drinks sold in the UK come in aluminium cans – but the metal is also used for cans for foods, oils, chemicals and other liquids.
  • Aluminium cans are more malleable and lighter than steel cans (aluminium is one-third as heavy as steel), and also do not rust or corrode.
  • Aluminium is an element (Al, atomic number 13), whereas steel is an alloy made mainly of iron and carbon. Aluminium is alloyed with small amounts of different metals like magnesium or manganese to give it the properties needed for each specific task.
  • Aluminium cans are not magnetic.
  • Recyclable aluminium cans will have the ‘alu’ symbol printed somewhere on them.
  • Only aluminium cans can be sold at recycling centres offering cash from cans.

Is it steel?

  • Steel cans are made from tin-coated steel (which is why they are often called ‘tin cans’).
  • They are mostly used for packaging food like soup and spaghetti hoops.
  • They are magnetic.
  • Steel tends to be darker than aluminium.
  • Steel cans can also be recycled in most kerbside collections, but you won’t be able to get cash from these cans.

So, the best ways to find out if your can is aluminium or steel are to either look for the ‘alu’ symbol or find a magnet. If the can is attracted to the magnet, you’ve got steel!

Aluminium and steel, the two most commonly used forms of metal packaging are both infinitely recyclable. Metal can be used for lots of different types of packaging and is permanent, meaning it can be used again and again. For more information on how metal recycles forever, visit

Metal Recycles Forever Think Cans Metal Packaging Europe