Recycling benefit

Amount recycled
CO2 avoided
Estimated disposal saving
Reported as exported

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 tins and drinks cans on the Wales Recycles website.

Recycling process

Cans and tins are separated from other materials

Cans and tins are separated from other materials, if necessary. Magnets are used to separate steel cans and tins from aluminium ones

Cans and tins are baled

The separated items are baled

Bales of cans shredded into small pieces

Bales of cans are shredded into small pieces

Shreds are ‘de-coated’

Shreds are ‘de-coated’. This means the painted decorations are removed by blowing hot air through the shreds

Small pieces are fed into a furnace

The small pieces are fed into a furnace

Liquid metal poured and continuously cooled by water

The liquid metal is poured and continuously cooled by water

An ‘ingot’

An ‘ingot’ is formed

‘Ingots’ are rolled into thin sheets

‘Ingots’ are rolled into thin sheets, which create new drinks cans that can be back on sale in just eight weeks

Cans and tins are separated from other materials

Cans and tins are separated from other materials, if necessary. Magnets are used to separate steel cans and tins from aluminium ones

Steel cans and tins are usually melted

Steel cans and tins – which are made from tin-coated steel – are usually melted alongside other steel scrap metal, like automotive scrap from cars and other vehicles

Liquid steel is formed into ‘slabs’

Liquid steel is formed into ‘slabs’

Steel slabs create sheets

Steel slabs create sheets, which become new tins

Recycling process - Metal

Where does metal recycling go?

All countries (selected materials) - 2022/23

Top UK recycling destinations

Country Tonnes
Wales 27,082t
England 24,176t
Scotland 13t
Northern Ireland 0t
Company Country Tonnes
Celsa Group Wales 5,376t
A S M Metal Recycling Ltd England 4,619t
Sims Group UK Ltd Wales 4,123t
European Metal Recycling Ltd England 3,421t
Tata Steel UK Ltd Wales 3,138t
GLJ Recycling Ltd Wales 2,718t
Novelis UK Ltd England 2,658t
AMG Resources Ltd Wales 1,792t
SL Recycling Limited Wales 1,758t
unspecified England 1,468t
EMR Group England 1,450t
Morris and Co Ltd England 1,381t

Top world recycling destinations

Company Country Tonnes
unspecified unspecified 4,497t
QRM Netherlands 555t
Dolphin Metal Separation BV Netherlands 457t
unspecified Turkey 417t
Speira Gmbh Germany 409t
Recco Non Ferros Metals Netherlands 373t
Baudelet Environnement France 303t
Alpet Geri Donusum Sanayi VE Turkey 267t
unspecified Portugal 154t
unspecified Italy 154t
unspecified Germany 130t
Mobirec France 129t
WRAP Cymru