With billions of packaging materials in circulation, it’s only fair to raise questions about sustainability. Consumers and brands now seek knowledge about the materials we use, our impact on the planet, and what it will take to balance consumer convenience with stewardship and long-term environmental protection.
The tin can is a mainstay of packaging tech and a good starting point for investigation. Let’s find out more about tin cans, how they’re made, and their viability in the recycling process.
With this information, your brand can make better choices regarding cost, consumer trust, and other key metrics that matter to your business.
What Is Tin?
We often use the term “tin” without knowing exactly what it means, or the true material composition behind it. Tin is a chemical element with the symbol Sn, sandwiched on the periodic table between other grey metalloids like lead and indium.
Like those chemical cousins, tin is soft and malleable, ideal for applications like soldering, plating, and creating specialized alloys that meet strict industrial standards.
In its pure form, tin is rare, meaning that many tin treatments have only used small amounts of the metal. As methods advanced, several tin products now contain zero tin whatsoever, and merely retain the name out of tradition.
Tin foil, for instance, was originally made with trace amounts of the real substance, but now contains primarily aluminum with some silicon and iron for tensile strength and puncture resistance. As we’ll discover, the misnomer is common among many products, including cans and other forms of rigid packaging.
Keep in mind that the term “tin” can simply be used to describe a rigid container for products ranging from tea, coffee, and chocolate, to cannabis, medical products, and industrial-grade materials.
What Is the Difference Between Tin and Tin Plated Steel?
While materials have evolved in major ways through the years, the name “tin” has stuck around for its simplicity. However, some products still contain the chemical element itself, which has distinctive attributes for packaging and other industry demands.
Tin-plated steel is a prime example of tin continuing to play a part in modern industry, even after its popularity has diminished over time. In fact, most of the tin mined today is used for this purpose, since pure tin is too expensive and soft to be viable in most cases.
With tin-plated steel, also known as tin-plate or tinplate, iron and carbon make up most of the steel foundation. Only between 1% and 2% tin is added to the mix, providing certain barrier properties that benefit key applications.
Because pure tin is soft, expensive, and impractical for use in construction, shipping, and other areas, the invention of tin-plated steel gives manufacturers more control over the outcome of their products.
Why Is Tin Plated Steel Used in Packaging?
We see tin-plated steel used in packaging solutions across the board, from food and beverage cans to larger product volumes and non-food materials. The material has several key properties that set it apart:
- Highly economical raw material and processing
- Easy to handle from both a manufacturing and consumer standpoint
- Safe for direct contact with food, beverages, and other consumables
- Different types of alloys let manufacturers create custom solutions
- Protect contents of solid and liquid food, ideal for shipping long distances
- Protect contents from excessive heat and cold, as well as impact and shock
- Prevents oxidation by providing oxygen barriers, key for tea and tobacco
- Ideal for branding and creating unique labels that appeal to buyers
- Child-resistant mechanisms can be installed to meet compliance
- Recyclable and reusable, almost infinitely with proper treatment
The benefits of tin-plated steel are so numerous that we often take them for granted. It’s easy to forget that a little more than a century ago, tin cans were often lined with lead and other unstable materials that could lead to health hazards and other concerns.
Step further back into history; tin cans were nowhere to be found. It wasn’t until the early 19th century that cans were used to preserve food, and modern patents were not established for the next hundred years.
Knowing this, we can safely say that tin-plated steel products are an overlooked modern marvel that makes our lives better nonetheless.
What Packaging Contains Tin Plated Steel?
You don’t need to look far to find examples of tin-plated steel packaging throughout your home, in the workplace, or in various industrial settings or construction zones.
Let’s examine three major categories of packaging that contain tin-plated steel and the unique benefits they each enjoy.
The classic tin can is a small, cylindrical pillar of American culture, and has since been exported across the globe in many forms. From the pantry to the workshop and the supply closet, tin cans are everywhere in the modern home and workplace.
The typical tin can is ideal for a single serving of food, holding about 15 ounces and easily storable in various configurations. At three inches wide and roughly 4.5 inches tall, these mighty cylinders can weather even the most challenging logistics journeys and protect non-perishables for years.
Products designed to be dispensed in mist or foam formats are often packaged in convenient aerosol containers. The spray mechanisms allow for our favorite deodorizers, hair sprays, paints, and cooking oils to be dispersed with precision, easy storage, and zero mess.
Immense tensile strength is required for aerosols to work properly and safely for consumers. Child-resistant elements are also necessary to keep kids from accessing potentially hazardous materials.
This makes tough tin-plated steel, combined with precise plastic elements, the perfect combination for modern aerosols.
Some Food Containers
Certain foods just make sense when packaged in tins. Your favorite foreign teas, for example, are elegantly presented in embossed tin containers that deliver a unique look and feel.
Unlike standard cardboard boxes, tins have a durable, everlasting presence that instantly adds a layer of luxury to any experience. That goes for chocolates, coffees, and other exquisite goods, as well.
Not all foods make sense with tins, as plastics are better suited for single-serving pastries and perishables. However, the evergreen appeal of tin-plated containers is ideal for eye-catching products that earn their rightful place on the kitchen counter or your home workspace.
What Makes a Material Recyclable?
Recyclability is a matter of convenience, conversion, and consistency over time.
First, a product must be conveniently recycled so that consumers know when and where to place them once finished. The conversion (reprocessing) must also be universal, widely understood, and scaled from homes and neighborhoods to large cities and entire industries.
Finally, consistency ensures that products remain in the recyclable loop for as long as possible, maximizing the life cycle of the material before it’s lost or lumped in with general waste.
What’s Better: Recycling or Composting?
While composting is a useful and fun practice for homes, gardens, and small businesses, recycling is a more comprehensive environmental solution that scales in many ways.
It’s an apples-and-oranges comparison, and both play a role in the sustainability cycle. However, our priority should be recycling at scale and making the most of materials like plastics, metals, paperboard, and more.
Are Tin Cans Recyclable?
Tin cans are one of the few products with seemingly infinite recyclable properties. This goes for all those canned food and soda cans to depleted aerosols and specialty goods containers, provided you follow the blueprint.
As long as the cans and lids are empty, clean, and dry, you can give these products another chance at life and do your part. Every city and town does things slightly differently, but it starts at home by sorting waste properly and consistently.
Recyclable tins are good for your products, great for the planet, and also build trust with increasingly conscious consumers. With cost-effective solutions now available from providers like Dymapak, it’s an easy decision for your brand.
Are Some Kinds of Tin Better Than Others?
Not only is tin produced with different methods and variables, but the end products are also entirely unique. Between sizing, dimensions, thickness, and finishing, two producers can create vastly different products that can fall into the “tin can” category at large.
Dymapak has delivered the world’s first lab-certified recyclable child-resistant tin, giving you the benefits of steel with a blend of plastic and silicon. The result is a strong, balanced, and resilient casing that meets the CPSC’s child-resistant packaging requirements and so much more.
These tins are recyclable yet built to last, and your branding translates perfectly to the container surface through expert printing, inside and out. You can also create custom product inserts and emboss the exterior to add a more distinguished and memorable touch to your brand.
The blueprint for tins might be simple at first glance, but certain products go above and beyond in all categories. Make sure your next packaging solution checks every box, including compliance, protection, child safety measures, and plenty of style.
The Bottom Line
Tin cans are not only recyclable, but they also stand the test of time from packaging to storage and plenty of other uses.
For both brands and customers, tin-plated steel and modern alternatives keep our favorite products fresh, safe, and accessible to those who need them, while also safeguarding them from children.
To put your next product in the spotlight with the best recyclable rigid packaging on the market, connect with Dymapak and let’s get started.