an aluminum can of beer

My sister came to visit me and, as people do, we sat on the patio and caught up with one another over a few (maybe more than a few) beers.

I didn’t notice this until 2 beers in, but before she threw her cans into the recycling, she crushed them with her hand. I gasped. She turned around so freakin’ fast and was like, “What recycling guru rule did I break now?” And through gritted teeth, I explained that it was the rule that you should not crush aluminum cans before recycling them.

Let me explain:

When you put cans into single stream recycling (you put all of your recyclables into one bin) the items are generally sorted on the back-end by machines. The machines gauge the shape and weight of an item in order to sort correctly. The same goes for, say, cans of food, bottles of water, etc. So when you crush any of these items, you’re making it difficult for the machine to determine what it is, and therefore it may end up not being recycled at all, but actually in the landfill!

That’s the very simple reason why you shouldn’t crush aluminum cans before you recycle them. But there’s another. You really should rinse everything before you put it into the recycling stream to prevent contamination. I generally fill cans with water, dump them out, then turn them upside down in the sink to dry before putting them in my recycling bin. It can turn into a great deal of cans when you have a few people over, but, hey, that’s the price we pay for having nice things.

Were you taught to crush cans in the past? Probably it’s because you used separate recycling bins for cans vs paper vs cardboard. But in a single-stream (which is widely adopted these days) you want to be sure a machine can identify what it is that you’re recycling and that the item is clean.

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Should You Crush Aluminum Cans Before Recycling Them?
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Hi, I'm MJ, a recovering aspirational recycler who started HowToRecycle to share her journey with others. I kindly invite you to share your knowledge with me, talk about issues that are bothering you, tell me where I’m wrong (you know you want to), and help me discover new things!