The steel can was invented more than 200 years ago.
Cans were first used as containers for food during the Napoleonic wars. The idea for preserving food by heating it in containers was developed by Nicolas Appert. He used glass jars, which were sent to French troops on the Russian front. In 1810, British merchant Peter Durand was granted the patent for a method of preserving food and other perishable items using vessels made of various materials, including steel.
Not surprisingly, food safety is still one of the most important benefits of canned food packaging.
However, food storage is only one of the many applications of steel packaging.
Steel packaging is durable, tamper-resistant and makes convenient containers. It is also 'shelf-stable', meaning that it can protect the contents from deterioration for a long time. In addition to these attributes, the steel used in packaging also has an aesthetic function. After all, packaging is designed not only to store the product but also to advertise it to the consumer.
An industry built on innovation
In some countries, steel cans are also referred to as tin cans or simply tins. There are thousands of applications, from the familiar soft drink can to unusually-shaped paint tins that are easy to hold in one hand, and retro designer biscuit tins.Steel packaging is used for:
- Promotional materials
- Paints and chemicals
- Bottle tops and caps
The majority of steel used in packaging is tinplate. This is steel that has been coated with a layer of tin to prevent corrosion. Although tinplate only accounts for around 1% of steel production, it is a highly visible and dynamic industry. Brands and products compete for consumers’ attention on the shelves of supermarkets and other retailers.
The manufacturing processes used in steel packaging are high-tech and sophisticated. Commercial production began in 1812, in a canning factory near London that supplied food to the British army. In 1846, cans were manufactured at the rate of 60 an hour. Modern canmakers can produce up to 1,000 cans a minute.
Once the steel is coated with tin, the tinplate can be coated with polymer, lacquered and printed. The final result is an attractive, safe and functional product.
Steel holds a unique position as a sustainable packaging material because it is 100% recyclable. Steel cans are the most recycled form of packaging. A significant proportion of all the steel in a can comes from recycled sources.
Data gathered by worldsteel shows that in 2007, 68% of steel cans were recycled.