Do This When Recycling Food Cans

Recycling can feel like an act of pious futility. Part of this is due to the convergence of three factors detailed by Forbes. Namely, it lacks investment, the producers are not involved in the discussion of how to recycle their products properly, and the original recycling laws were laid down decades ago when the biggest need for recycling was newspapers. Together, these dysfunctional aspects of this process result in more people engaging in what is called "wishful recycling" than actual recycling.

Back in 2015, Scientific American learned from James Delvin, CEO of ReCommunity Recycling, that wishful recycling simply means people throw it in the recycling bin even if there is a remote possibility that it can be reprocessed. More recently, The Everyday Environmentalist more kindly explains that wish-cycling emerges from confusion, not apathy or willingness to let chance decide.

However, one thing that can be cleared up is how we are to treat the lids of cans. After all, they look like they should recycle. They do, in fact, but there is the issue of how to do it.

How to recycle the lid

Lids can be recycled, and, as CNET explains, they should be, not just because of the general virtues of reusing, but because they are made from metal, and so represent a limited resource. To recycle the can lid, remove it entirely, rinse it, and place it firmly into the can. Mother Jones explains that even though many recycling centers will accept dirtied containers, they get paid less for them. In other words, rinsing the lid will help finance the actual process.

The lid should be placed inside the can and not allowed to tumble freely with the rest of your recyclables because, as The Kitchn learned, they are too small to be efficiently reprocessed. More specifically, their diminutive size means they can accidentally fall through the system to join the recycling of other materials or even return to the waterways from which we're trying to keep them.

According to Jessica Edington, a project associate at How2Recycle, removing the lids and placing them into the can makes them more likely to successfully pass through sortation and enter the metal recycling pipeline, ensuring they are recycled (per The Kitchn). She, however, has no issue with the lid still being connected to the can.