Steel Packaging — A ‘Can Do’ All-American Industry

by Marcos Corradin, Director of Marketing and Strategy


One of the many lessons of the coronavirus pandemic is that global trade can be fragile, while domestic production provides supply chain continuity as well as American jobs and economic growth.

The U.S. can-manufacturing industry is a leading example of this lesson on many levels. As American consumers stocked their pantries in the early days of the pandemic, they reached for canned food products to provide a safe and nutritious supply of meals for their families. What they may not have realized is that the vast majority of the cans they bought were constructed of American-made steel manufactured by American workers from American-recycled and American-mined materials.

That’s a lot of American self-reliance packed in a single tin can — and statistics bear it out.

Industry data show that Americans use about 68 million steel food cans every day — more than 25 billion a year. Of those, less than a small fraction are imported, according to U.S. International Trade Commission statistics.

Surprised? We’re not. As the nation’s leading producer of tin-plated steel, U. S. Steel supplies America’s largest can manufacturers, who in turn provide food processors and several other industries with packaging that is safe, durable and infinitely recyclable. In fact, there’s a high probability that any time an American consumer opens a can of food, he or she is handling steel produced by U. S. Steel.

Without question, steel-can packaging is an enduring American success story, and U. S. Steel has been an integral part of its growth and innovation from the outset. The first electrolytic tin line in the United States was commissioned at our Gary Works plant in Indiana in 1937, and production continues today — with many improvements along the way. We also operate a tin line at our Midwest Plant in Portage, Ind.

From the beginning, we forged strong relationships with U.S. can innovators, including the most-iconic names in American packaging. We supply tin plate to Sonoco Metal Packaging, which has roots as household name with its ubiquitous Ball canning jars and now ranks as one of the nation’s top food and aerosol can manufacturers. We also supply Crown Holdings, which was founded in the late 1800s as Crown Cork and Seal Company, founded by original bottle cap inventor, William Painter, and today continues to be a packaging industry giant in the food and aerosol market.

By far the largest can manufacturer in the United States — and consumer of U. S. Steel tin plate — is Silgan Containers. Silgan is an American company founded in 1987 with roots that stretch back to Carnation, which opened its condensed milk can operation in Kent, Wash., in 1899 and to the Union and American can companies, which later became National Can.

Silgan, Sonoco Metal Pack, and Crown are all U.S. companies whose innovations have continually improved the efficiency of can manufacturing and have contributed to keeping steel cans at the forefront of the food and aerosol packaging industry through consistent quality and sustainability. They have developed innovations such as easy-open cans for consumer convenience and recent waste-reducing two-piece aerosol can manufacturing. They also have significantly reduced the weight of the steel used in can making by as much as a third in recent decades.

U. S. Steel has worked closely with these industry icons throughout their history to contribute to advances in can manufacturing, and we continue to invest in tin plate production efficiency and quality improvements at our Gary and Midwest operations.

Perhaps the most-compelling aspect of this singular American success story is that the steel used in creating tin cans — which comprise about 99 percent of can weight — is mined, melted and made in America. Unlike most aluminum, which is imported to the United States, the raw materials for “virgin” steel come from U.S. sources and support U.S. jobs.

Moreover, 71 percent of the steel cans used in the United States are recycled. Visit a U. S. Steel melting facility and you can literally see steel cans flowing into the furnace. This highly efficient recycling process saves at least 75 percent of the energy it would take to create steel from raw materials.

Although the coronavirus pandemic may have drawn attention to the importance of American-made products, the steel packaging industry has been a long-standing example of American manufacturing that continues to rely on a U.S.-based supply chain throughout its lifecycle.

U. S. Steel is proud to have been an integral partner of the packaging industry throughout its history and to recommit ourselves to supporting the industry through investments in our manufacturing facilities.


About the author

Marcos Corradin, Director of Marketing and Strategy