Can Cats Really Eat Recycled Food? The Truth About Recycling Cat Food


Recycling cat food cans is important for several reasons. First, it reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills. Pet food cans make up a significant portion of metal food packaging waste, with billions of cans used each year in the United States alone. Recycling these cans conserves natural resources and energy that would be used to make new cans from raw materials. Furthermore, manufacturing cans from recycled aluminum requires 95% less energy than creating cans from virgin material. Recycling also helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with landfills as well as aluminum manufacturing. Finally, recycling pet food cans raises awareness and promotes recycling of other aluminum products, like beverage cans, which have much higher recycling rates currently.

In general, cat food cans are widely recyclable. Most cat food cans are made from aluminum, steel, or a combination of the two metals. These materials are highly recyclable and accepted by most municipal recycling programs as long as the cans are empty and clean. However, some programs may not accept cans with paper labels still attached. Recycling facilities shred and melt down food cans, allowing the metal to be remade into new products. Therefore, properly preparing and recycling cat food cans provides environmental and economic benefits.

Are Cat Food Cans Recyclable?

The short answer is yes, cat food cans can usually be recycled. However, there are some specifics to be aware of when it comes to recycling different types of cat food cans.

Cat food cans are primarily made from two different materials – aluminum and steel. Both aluminum and steel cat food cans are widely accepted by recycling programs across the United States. Aluminum cans in particular have a high recycling rate, as aluminum is a valuable and highly recyclable material.

Steel cat food cans may have a plastic lining inside to prevent corrosion. This can sometimes contaminate recycling streams. However, most curbside programs still accept steel cans despite the lining. Steel is magnetic, so it can easily be sorted from other recyclables.

In addition to the can material, lids and labels need to be considered. Metal lids on cat food cans are recyclable, but plastic lids may not be in some programs. Paper labels can be left on cans. Plastic shrink sleeves should be removed before recycling if possible.

Overall, the recyclability of cat food cans depends on the specific materials used and the capabilities of your local recycling program. But in most cases, cat food cans can successfully be recycled through standard household recycling collection.

Preparing Cat Food Cans for Recycling

Properly preparing cat food cans is an important step before placing them in your recycling bin. Cans that still contain food residue or are not properly cleaned can contaminate other recyclables and potentially damage recycling equipment. Here are some tips for getting cat food cans ready for recycling:

Cleaning Cans
It’s important to thoroughly rinse out any remaining cat food, sauce, or residue from the can. Water and a scrub brush can help remove stubborn remnants from the sides and bottom of the can. Leaving food bits or residue can attract pests and cause odors in the recycling stream. Some recycling facilities may even reject unclean cans.

Removing Labels
Peel off any paper labels or plastic sleeves from around the can. The labels and sleeves can often be recycled, however they need to be separated from the metal can for proper recycling. Check if your local recycler accepts paper and plastic recycling. If not, the labels will need to be placed in the trash.

Flattening Cans
After rinsing and removing labels, flatten the cat food can completely before placing in your recycling container. This helps the cans take up less space. Some recyclers require cans to be flattened. Compacting cans also make them easier to stack during transportation.

With cans cleaned, labels removed, and flattened, you can feel confident adding your cat food cans to your curbside recycling bin or taking them to a local metal recycling drop-off. Properly prepped cans are more easily recycled into new metal products.

Curbside Recycling of Cat Food Cans

Curbside recycling programs allow households to recycle certain materials by placing them in a designated recycling bin for regular pickup. This offers a convenient recycling solution for many common household items.

When it comes to cat food cans, the rules for curbside recycling vary by location. Some programs accept steel cat food cans along with other steel cans, while others do not take cat food cans due to concerns over food residue contaminating other recyclables.

For example, according to Cincinnati’s recycling guidelines, “Cat food cans are NOT accepted in the curbside program.” (Source)

Before placing cat food cans in curbside recycling, check with your local waste management department to understand the specific policies in your area. They can advise on any preparation needed, such as rinsing cans, removing labels, flattening cans, etc.

With proper cleaning and compliance with local guidelines, cat food cans may be eligible for curbside recycling alongside other steel cans. But when in doubt, utilize a drop-off recycling center or other recycling options for cat food cans instead.

Drop-off Recycling of Cat Food Cans

Drop-off recycling centers are locations where you can bring recyclable materials to be properly sorted and recycled. Many locations accept cat food cans as part of their metal can recycling program. Drop-off recycling provides a convenient option for recycling cat food cans without relying on curbside pickup.

You can find drop-off recycling centers by searching online directories or contacting your local waste management department. Many big box stores like Home Depot and Lowes also have drop-off recycling for customers. Non-profit organizations like Royal Canin’s recycling program partner with pet stores to collect pet food packaging for recycling.

Most drop-off locations accept steel and aluminum cat food cans. It’s important to clean cans thoroughly before dropping them off to avoid contaminating other recyclables. Some locations may also accept other materials like plastic pouches or bag packaging. Check with your specific drop-off center to see their accepted materials.

The convenience of drop-off recycling makes it easy to recycle cat food cans even if they aren’t accepted by your curbside program. With drop-off centers accepting a wider variety of materials, you can recycle all types of cat food packaging.

Composting Cat Food Cans

Cat food cans, both wet and dry, can be composted. The cans are typically made from tin-coated steel which will slowly break down in the compost pile. It’s important to note that any residual cat food left in the can will also break down in the compost.

According to a Reddit discussion on composting, a small amount of canned cat food scraps should not cause any issues or smell when added to a compost tumbler or bin (source). However, it’s recommended to limit the amount of cat food added and bury it under other compost materials to prevent attracting pests.

One potential safety concern is that composting cat food may attract rats or other rodents if they can smell it. To prevent this, empty and rinse the cat food cans thoroughly before adding them to your compost pile. You may also want to chop or crush the cans to speed up the breakdown process.

Overall, adding small amounts of thoroughly cleaned cat food cans to your compost should not cause any major issues. Just be sure to mix and bury them within your pile to decompose properly and avoid pests.

Recycling Cat Food Can Lids

Cat food can lids are often made from aluminum or steel, which makes them recyclable. However, some recycling programs require extra preparation when it comes to lids. According to The Kitchn (, the best practice is to keep lids attached to their original cans after emptying and rinsing them out. This prevents lids from falling through the cracks of sorting machinery.

If your local recycling program does not allow attached lids, you may need to collect and store lids separately before taking them to a drop-off center. Some curbside programs suggest placing lids inside the can and crimping the metal at the top to keep them contained. Make sure to check with your local guidelines first. Compostable can lids made from recyclable PET plastic are also available from companies like Green Paper Products (

Outside of recycling, reuse is another great option. Many companies sell reusable can lids, like Ecopromotions (, allowing you to get more use out of opened cans. With some creativity, you may also find ways to repurpose lids around the house.

Recycling Wet vs. Dry Cat Food Cans

There are some key differences when it comes to recycling wet versus dry cat food cans:

Wet food cans contain cat food in a gravy or sauce. This means some residue may remain after emptying the can. Dry food cans just contain the hard kibble, so they can be more easily emptied of content.

According to recycling experts, a small amount of residue in the can is okay and will not prevent the steel from being recycled[1]. However, thoroughly rinsing wet food cans helps minimize contamination.

Wet food cans tend to be aluminum rather than steel. Some curbside programs only accept steel cans. However, most aluminum is recyclable and accepted by drop-off centers.

The metal in both wet and dry food cans can be repeatedly recycled without any loss in quality. Properly recycling cat food cans helps give these valuable materials a second life.

Benefits of Recycling Cat Food Cans

There are several important benefits to recycling cat food cans rather than throwing them in the trash:

Environmental Benefits

Recycling cat food cans conserves natural resources and energy. According to the Pet Food Institute, recycling an aluminum cat food can saves more than 90% of the energy needed to make a can from new material. Recycling steel cans saves 60% of the energy to make new steel cans. Recycling the metal also reduces greenhouse gas emissions compared to producing new metal. Landfill waste is reduced as well.

Economic Benefits

Recycling cat food cans creates employment opportunities and generates revenue. According to the Pet Food Institute, the recycling of steel and aluminum cans in the US generates $800 million in revenue annually and employs nearly 28,000 people.

Supporting Circular Economy

Recycling cat food cans helps support a circular economy by recovering materials that can be remade into new products. Aluminum and steel from recycled cans can be used to produce new food cans or other metal products. This reduces reliance on continued extraction of finite virgin resources.

Overall, recycling metal cat food cans provides important sustainability benefits by conserving resources, reducing waste, lowering emissions, and supporting economic activity.


Recycling cat food cans is an easy way to reduce waste and help the environment. Metal cat food cans, including the aluminum cans wet food often comes in, are fully recyclable through most curbside recycling programs as well as drop-off locations. The steel cans dry food comes in can also usually be recycled. Preparing cans by rinsing and removing the labels makes them recycling-ready. Though lids and pulls tabs may need to be removed from the can, these pieces can also be recycled in many cases.

Composting is another eco-friendly way to dispose of used cat food cans. By tossing cans into a compost bin, the metal will break down over time, adding beneficial minerals to the soil. Wet food cans in particular can provide moisture to compost. Just be sure to remove any remaining food or residue first.

To reduce your environmental impact, make an effort to recycle cat food cans and packaging. Check with your local municipality to find out the specific recycling guidelines in your area. With some simple preparation, cat food cans can be easily incorporated into your regular recycling routine. We can all make a difference through small, consistent actions like recycling cat can food containers.

Scroll to Top