white ceramic cup with saucer on brown wooden table

Are coffee cans recyclable? How to Reuse or Recycle

The tragic moment has come: your coffee canister is empty. Being the environmentally responsible citizen that you are, you approach the recycling bin. But then you stop to ask yourself the modern-day age-old question: Are coffee Cans Recyclable? The short answer: It depends on what your coffee canister is made from. 

If you live in a household with avid coffee drinkers, you may have tried a variety of new coffee products made of assorted materials. From plastic coffee cans to steel coffee cans and paper bags, it can be difficult to tell which ones are made of recyclable materials. Of course, you know that different materials lead to different ways of disposing of the container. After reading this post, you won’t have to guess what to do with it when you get to the bottom of the can! 

Whether you buy whole coffee beans or coffee grounds, it’s imperative to think about the fate of these containers once they fulfill their coffee-carrying duty. In this post, we’ll walk you through the different types of coffee cans and how to dispose of each. We’ll also devise a few creative ways to use empty coffee cans. 

It’s a good rule of thumb to clean your coffee pot after you finish a large container of coffee. Check out our guide for how to clean your coffee pot here!

close up of pouring milk to coffee

Types of Coffee Cans

Coffee and tea tins for that matter come in all shapes and sizes. Before you pick a waste bin, see if you can identify the kind of material of your coffee container. Then you can determine the best way to dispose of it.

Are Metal Coffee Cans Recyclable?  

The good news is most metal coffee cans are absolutely recyclable. Most metal coffee canisters are made from steel or aluminum. Tin cans are used less often because tin has become too expensive for food products.

Steel cans and aluminum cans are proliferating across many categories in the food industry. Metal can be recycled repeatedly without compromising the material’s quality or integrity, boasting near-infinite recyclability.

Some metal cans have a plastic lid. Check the type of material of the lid to see if your local recycling center will accept it. So, toss that used coffee can right into your bin with its metal buddies.

You might find a coating or a label on the outside of some metal coffee cans. You can easily cut this off and remove it before recycling. While on coffee canisters, there’s a very thin plastic lining on the inside to help preserve the freshness. The addition of the lining creates complexity for recycling.

person holding a coffee scoop over a reusable cloth bag

What about Cardboard containers?

What about those cardboard coffee canisters with foil linings? Like Trader Joe’s coffee cans that stand up on their own and appear to be made of paper. These seemingly brown paper bags or containers are very common amongst independent roasters or private-label brands.

Although at first glance, you may want to put this in with your recycling. This mixed material (cardboard, plastic, and foil) often can’t be easily separated for efficient recycling. Check your local recycling guidelines first. Some accept them, while others may ask you to dispose of them as regular trash. 

Some companies are beginning to use cardboard coffee cans. These are compostable or are easily compatible with recycling programs. 

Are Foil Coffee Bags Recyclable?

If you buy coffee in bulk, many coffee suppliers package it in a foil-type bag. Unfortunately, these usually have a plastic lining. The mixed material makes recycling complicated. You’ll likely need to dispose of this in the garbage.

smiling brunette woman with orange mug in hands

Plastic Coffee Containers

Some instant coffee or flavored coffee grounds come in plastic containers with aluminum foil lids. Many communities recycle certain types of plastic, but not all. Check your local guidelines! If your area doesn’t accept it, consider repurposing the container for craft projects or storage.

Bonus Tip: 

If you need clarification on what goes where, most municipalities have online resources or apps to help. They’ll tell you exactly what to do with your specific waste items. Take advantage of them and become a recycling pro!

Recycling Pro Tip: 

Regardless of the material, always rinse and clean your coffee can or container before recycling to avoid contaminating the entire batch. Check the bottom of the can to make sure no grounds or beans remain. A quick rinse goes a long way towards preventing contamination at your local recycling facilities. 

coffee in a compostable bag. It can be recycled or composted

Innovations in Coffee Packaging

If you never want to ask the question “are coffee cans recyclable” again, check out some of these latest innovations in sustainable coffee packaging to reduce waste.

Compostable Coffee Bags

Some smaller companies have started packaging their coffee in compostable bags. One newly common material is BioTre – composed of wood pulp, sugar cane, and other materials. These renewable plant-based materials make it compostable in home composters once you remove the zipper seal. 

Refill at a Local Shop 

Some local coffee roasting companies have refill programs where you can bring your own jar and refill it with coffee. If this sounds like something you’d like to try, check out your local coffee shops. They might offer this program, or maybe you could interest them in a pilot program. It’s a great way to support local businesses. 

If you plan to refill at a local coffee shop or a bulk store, choose a reusable container made of eco-friendly material. Something like glass jars with a sealed lid or stainless steel will do an excellent job preserving the flavor and aroma of the coffee. Just make sure you store it in a cool, dry area!

shallow focus photography of pink flowers - upcycled planter from a coffee pot

Think outside the bin

While recycling is usually our first choice, the environmentalist’s mantra reads, “Reduce, reuse, recycle.” It’s not always possible to reduce, but you can repurpose your old coffee cans, which is a fantastic way to repurpose waste and get creative. We’ve compiled a list of ways to reuse coffee cans. 

Arts & Crafts

Old metal coffee cans or plastic coffee containers make wonderful planters. Get creative with the design by painting it and adding designs. Don’t forget to drill a hole in the bottom for drainage!

If you’re into arts and crafts, there are a few tutorials online on making a bird feeder, which would be a great way to upcycle an old coffee canister. 

More Practical Purposes

You can turn it into pencil holders or storage containers for an arts and crafts project. My grandparents used to save their leftover coffee canisters for a variety of things like cookie jars, saving change, or even just to hold other small items like loose nails and screws. 

We have a plastic coffee container we’ve saved over the years to collect and store our compost before taking it outside. These containers are designed to lock in the aromas of coffee. They do a great job ensuring the smell of food waste stays contained under our sink. Once the container is full, we take it outside to compost it. 

photo of pen beside ink

So Are your Coffee Cans Recyclable?

While the specific recycling rules for your coffee might vary, we’ve covered you with a few quick tips for the next time you finish a container of coffee. From understanding the nuances of metal and paper cans to navigating the challenges of recycling, this post serves as a starting point for figuring out a second life. Remember to rinse it clean, check your local recycling facility guidelines, and pop it in the recycling bin for a second life. There are many creative ways you can reuse old empty coffee containers if recycling isn’t an option. Some ideas are planters, storage, or bird feeders. But let me know what you come up with in the comments below! If you enjoyed this post, check out our other posts below!

Kelly D'Amico, Founder Made to Sustain

Kelly D’Amico, MBS

Hi there! I’m Kelly D’Amico. Welcome to my blog, Made to Sustain, which spreads awareness of building a more sustainable food system. I create and share recipes and food brands that are good for people and good for the planet. I have a Master’s degree in Global Food Technology and a BS in Food Science and Nutrition from Rutgers University. I’m eager to help you learn more about a sustainable diet.

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