Recycling information

Metals make up a significant portion of recycled material in the UK, with most kinds of metal able to be used again, although with varying quality. Some metals are recycled more than others, aluminium and steel being the most common.

Aluminium recycling is one of the most well-known and visible forms of recycling in the UK: around 72 per cent of the 9 billion aluminium cans used in the UK every year are recycled annually. One tonne of recycled aluminium saves the amount of carbon dioxide (or equivalent) emissions produced by driving 27,000 miles.

The most common use for recycled aluminium is to make packaging, especially cans, for the food and drink industry, but it can also be used for household items and vehicles like bikes or cars.

Steel is 100 per cent recyclable and widely recycled in the UK; steel recycled in the building and demolition sector reached 92 per cent in 2012, while over 2.5 billion steel cans are recycled every year.

Vehicles, domestic appliance components, heavy machinery and construction materials are all possible destinations for recycled steel.

Metals are collected from the kerbside and can banks before being taken to be shredded and melted down into large ingots, which are then rolled into long sheets for onward processing. It is important to make sure all metal is free from contamination to ensure that the recycled material gets turned into a shiny, new product.

You can learn more about how to recycle metal food and drinks cans on the Wales Recycles website.

Metal icon

Recycling benefit

Amount recycled 50,683t
CO2 avoided 128,735t
Estimated disposal saving £5,727,199

Recycling process

  1. Collection: Collected through council kerbside recycling collections, can banks, and council recycling sites. The collected material is sorted according to type of metal, passing beneath a large magnet to separate all the ferrous metals. Steel cans are washed with a caustic chemical substance to remove tin outer layer. Once sorted, the metals are baled and sent to a recycling plant.

  2. Shredding and cleaning: The sorted metals are then fed into a machine and shredded into small pieces, and any decoration remaining on aluminium is removed by blowing it with hot air at 500degC.

  3. Melting: The respective metals are then melted in separate furnaces, after which the molten metal flows into a mould and is cooled by jets of water, hardening into an ingot.

  4. Rolling: The ingot is taken to a rolling mill where it is pre-heated and rolled into a sheet to the exact specifications and thickness required by the onward manufacturer.

  5. Can-making: If the metal sheet is going to be turned into food and drink cans, the sheet is fed through a press before thousands of shallow cups are cut. The sides of the cups are then rammed through a series of rings to raise the cups and form the can shape. External decoration is applied and the cans are dried in an oven.

  6. Filling: The cans are cleaned using high-pressure air and water and filled with C02 gas. Liquid is then added to the can, the can ends are attached and the can is sealed up, then go to the retailer.

Where does Wales’ Metal recycling go?

Top 12 countries (selected materials)

Where does Wales’ Metal recycling go?

Top 12 countries (selected materials)

Top 10 UK recycling destinations

Top world recycling destinations