Why you shouldn’t crush cans before putting them in the recycling bin


There’s something satisfying about downing the remaining contents of a can and crushing the container with your bare hands.

Or smashing it on your head, if you’re one of those people who finds doing stupid, painful things absolutely hilarious.

But before you relish in the destruction of a metal container, there’s something you should know: You really shouldn’t crush cans when you’re done with them, as this could prevent them from being recycled.

That’s right – smushing up that can, as satisfying as it may be, is not good for the planet.

The senior director of public affairs at the Aluminum Association, in the US (that’s why there’s an ‘i’ missing in the name), has issued a warning about flattening cans before putting them in the recycling bin.

Matt Meenan explains that most sorting facilities for rubbish use a single-stream recycling system, which means that everything’s mixed together then sorted.

A lot of the sorting relies on material and shape – so if you mush up a can so it no longer has its traditional shape, the machine may not recognise it, pushing it straight in the non-recyclable pile.

Or, worse, the can may be mistaken for paper or cardboard, leading to it contaminating the entire batch of paper recycling. When this happens, the entire batch can be sent to the landfill. Oh dear.

(Picture: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Matt told Recyclebank: ‘While cans are recycled at high rates, more than 40 billion cans still end up in landfills in the U.S. each year. That’s $800 million of lost material that could otherwise be recycled back into a new product.’

We wanted to see if this is the case in the UK, too, or if this method of recycling is just an American thing.

It turns out that you shouldn’t crush your cans in the UK, either. Sean Pettitt, the director of Purely Waste Solutions, tells ‘If you put all of your recyclables in the same bin which then goes to a materials recovery facility to be segregated, it can make it harder for a squashed can to be separated.

‘The reason for this is that it is easier for equipment to sort intact aluminium cans due to the larger surface area of the material for the eddy current separator to detect. The same applies to the steel cans for the magnet to remove this material in the process.’

But there’s a caveat – if your recycling is separated from the get-go, with cans placed in a separate bin or bag to plastic and paper, then crushing your cans is totally fine.

In fact, says Sean, ‘it would be beneficial to crush the cans to save space, to get more material in a container and make transportation more efficient.’

Most of us do just chuck cans straight in the mixed recycling, mind you, so the general rule remains: do not crush your cans. Leave them as they are, put them in the recycling bin, and praise yourself for a job well done.

Just remember to wash your recycling while you’re at it.

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