Can Aluminum Cat Food Cans Join the Soda Can Recycling Party?


Aluminum can recycling is hugely important for environmental and economic reasons. Aluminum production requires significant energy, so recycling cans saves 95% of the energy needed versus creating new aluminum from raw materials. This dramatically reduces emissions and energy costs. Recycling just one aluminum can save enough electricity to power a TV for 3 hours. With Americans recycling around 50 billion cans per year, this adds up to massive energy savings. Recycling also reduces the need for destructive mining of bauxite ore, the key source for new aluminum.

However, there has been uncertainty around recycling aluminum cat food cans along with traditional aluminum soda cans. Cat food cans differ in their shape and interior coatings. Many recycling programs only explicitly accept “aluminum beverage cans,” leaving cat food cans in a gray area. But given the benefits of aluminum recycling, many experts argue that cat food cans should be recycled whenever possible. In this article, we’ll analyze the pros and cons, discuss which programs accept cat food cans, and share tips for proper recycling.

Aluminum Can Recycling

Aluminum cans are one of the most recycled materials in the world. According to the Aluminum Association, nearly 75% of all aluminum produced in the U.S. is still in use today [1]. Aluminum cans can be recycled repeatedly without any loss in quality, and recycling aluminum requires 95% less energy than producing new aluminum [2].

The aluminum recycling process starts by collecting used beverage cans at recycling centers. From there, the cans are sent to a recycling plant where they are shredded into small pieces. The shredded aluminum is then melted down and formed into solid blocks called ingots. The ingots are shipped to manufacturers and made into new aluminum cans or other aluminum products.

Recycling aluminum cans provides many benefits. It conserves energy, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, saves landfill space, and provides a source of revenue from the scrap value of aluminum. Essentially, recycling aluminum cans transforms a waste product into a reusable resource, creating a sustainable closed-loop cycle.

Differences Between Soda & Cat Food Cans

While soda and cat food cans may look similar, there are some key differences in their composition that impact recycling:

Soda cans are typically made purely of aluminum. Cat food cans, however, often have a steel body with an aluminum lid. The steel contains a thin coating to prevent corrosion and interaction with the food contents. This coating can contaminate recycling streams if not properly removed (Source).

Soda cans contain only soda, while cat food cans may have traces of food residue inside. This food waste can attract pests and cause contamination issues if not thoroughly cleaned out prior to recycling (Source).

Due to these factors, recycling facilities may have different policies regarding accepting cat food vs soda cans. Cat food cans are more likely to be rejected if not properly cleaned and separated from aluminum-only cans.

Recycling Cat Food Cans

Recycling cat food cans presents some unique challenges compared to recycling aluminum soda cans. One of the main issues is contamination. Cat food cans contain traces of pet food residue even after they are emptied. This leftover organic material can contaminate the recycling stream if not properly cleaned out ahead of time.

According to a report, less than 20% of aluminum pet food cans are recycled each year, compared to 54% of aluminum soda cans. The lower recycling rate for cat food cans is largely attributed to the extra effort required by consumers to fully clean and prepare the cans for recycling.

To recycle pet food cans, it’s important to first empty out all leftovers into the trash. Then, wash out the interior of the can with soap and water to remove any remaining organic residue. Allow the can to fully dry before placing it into a recycling bin. Some municipal recycling programs may not accept pet food cans if they appear contaminated or uncleaned.

Programs Accepting Cat Food Cans

Many curbside recycling programs do not accept cat food cans, but there are some specialty programs that will take them for recycling. Two major pet food brands, Royal Canin and Purina, have partnered with TerraCycle to offer free recycling of their pet food packaging, including cans.

The Royal Canin recycling program allows consumers to download free shipping labels to mail in Royal Canin and Eukanuba pet food cans, pouches, and bags. The cans must be empty and rinsed before mailing. There are quantity limits per shipment.

Similarly, the Purina recycling program provides free shipping labels for consumers to mail in Purina brand cat and dog food cans for recycling. The cans must be empty and clean. There are also quantity limits per shipment.

Some non-profit organizations like animal shelters may also accept cat food cans as fundraising donations. It’s best to call local shelters directly to ask if they take cat food cans before dropping them off.

While these specialty mail-in programs recycle all types of cat food cans, most standard curbside recycling programs only take aluminum cans. Steel cat food cans are often not accepted. It’s important to check local recycling guidelines.

Preparing Cat Food Cans for Recycling

Properly cleaning and preparing cat food cans is an important step before placing them in your recycling bin. Here are some tips on how to optimize your cat food can recycling:

  • Rinse the cans out thoroughly with water to remove any remaining food residue. Scrape the insides with a spatula or spoon if needed.
  • Make sure to remove any paper labels. Soak the cans in warm water if the labels don’t peel off easily.
  • Crush the cans with your hands or a can crusher to save space in your recycling bin.
  • If your municipality accepts cat food cans, place them in your curbside recycling bin. If not, look for alternate drop-off locations that take scrap metal like recycling centers or scrap yards. According to Reddit, some cities may accept cat food cans if rinsed properly.
  • Consider donating unopened cans to animal shelters if you have extra. The shelter can distribute unexpired food to animals in need.

Taking a few extra minutes to clean cat food cans allows them to be recycled and turned into new metal products. With some simple preparation, you can give cans a second life and keep them out of landfills.

Benefits of Recycling Cat Food Cans

Recycling cat food cans provides numerous environmental and economic benefits. According to the Pet Food Institute, recycling aluminum saves more than 90% of the energy required to produce aluminum from raw materials ( This greatly reduces greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution from aluminum production. Recycled aluminum also requires far less water to process than raw materials. With cat food cans making up around 10% of the aluminum can market, recycling them can significantly lower environmental impacts.

There are also economic gains from recycling cat food cans. The aluminum has value that can offset waste management costs and generate income for recycling programs. According to the Allegheny Front, Americans only recycle around 20% of aluminum pet food cans versus 65% of beverage cans ( This represents lost economic potential. Increasing cat food can recycling rates could bring in millions of dollars in additional income for recycling programs across the country.

Overcoming Challenges

Recycling cat food cans presents some unique challenges compared to recycling aluminum soda cans. The remnants of food and liquid inside cat food cans can contaminate recycling loads if not properly cleaned out. Additionally, many curbside recycling programs do not accept cat food cans. However, there are solutions to overcome these challenges.

To avoid contamination, be sure to completely empty and rinse out cat food cans before placing them in the recycling bin. Use a spatula or spoon to scrape out any remaining food or sauce on the inside. Give them a quick rinse to remove traces of food residue. Allow them to air dry before recycling.

Check with your local recycling program to see if they accept cat food cans. Some will allow them if they are clean and empty. If your curbside recycling does not take cat food cans, look for alternate drop-off locations in your community that do accept them, such as recycling depots. You can also contact pet food companies to see if they offer can recycling initiatives.

Some communities may require you to remove paper labels from cans before recycling. If so, try soaking the cans in warm water to loosen the labels for easy removal. Avoid putting cans with paper labels still attached into recycling bins.

With some preparation steps, diligence, and investigating alternate recycling options, the challenge of recycling cat food cans can be overcome. The small effort helps divert tons of aluminum from landfills each year.

Actionable Steps

Recycling cat food cans requires just a few simple steps that consumers can easily follow:

1. Remove the lid entirely from the can. You can place the lid inside the empty can so it doesn’t get lost. Pinching the top of the can closed can help prevent spills or animals getting inside.

2. Rinse the empty can to remove remaining food residue. This helps control odors and pests for recycling facilities.

3. Let the can air dry completely before placing it into your recycling container.

4. Confirm with your local recycling program that steel/tin cans are accepted. Most curbside programs accept cans, but always check first.

5. Place the dry can loosely in your recycling bin, without crushing or compressing it. Keep the can intact.

Following these basic steps ensures cat food cans can be successfully recycled just like aluminum soda cans. With some simple preparation, consumers can feel good about keeping these cans out of the landfill.


In summary, recycling aluminum cat food cans provides many benefits. Aluminum cans require much less energy to produce than creating new aluminum, helping conserve natural resources. Recycling also reduces landfill waste. While some challenges exist in preparing and finding recycling programs to take cat food cans, it’s a worthwhile effort. By rinsing and crushing cans, removing paper labels, and checking with your local recycling center, you can easily add cat food cans into your regular recycling routine.

Recycling cat food cans takes a small amount of effort, but makes a meaningful impact. With billions of cans produced each year for pet food, recycling even a portion results in massive energy savings and landfill reduction. We can all do our part to recycle responsibly. Seek out information on cat food can recycling in your community to reduce your environmental footprint.

Scroll to Top