Skip to main content

Steel Drums

The cylindrical steel drum has been used for the carriage of liquids for the whole of the twentieth century.

It is a robust and versatile container manufactured from mild steel in diameters ranging from 165 millimetres to 571.5 millimetres and is used to carry virtually everything that is capable of being poured, from foodstuffs to the most hazardous chemicals. In its full open top form it is also used to carry powders, pastes, greases and the more viscous liquids. Despite the very large range of sizes produced, the industry is characterised by the 210 litre (45 gallon) steel drum which accounts for 86% by weight of the total quantity manufactured in the United Kingdom.

Because it can be rolled, the cylindrical drum is the only form of large package than can be handled safely by one man without the need for mechanical handling equipment or prepared surfaces. It is largely for this reason that the steel drum remains the most popular form of shipping container in all corners of the world.

Manufactured on high speed dedicated production lines, the steel drum can be produced cheaply in very large quantities to the very highest standards of quality and design. It is uniquely strong and is therefore regarded as the safest form of container for the most hazardous materials.

The Packing Material of Choice

Steel's proven performance demonstrates its suitability as a packaging solution for commercial and industrial uses. Its inherent properties enable the steel drum to provide:

  • Versatility - the packaging solution for a wide range of products
  • Environmental Strength - an excellent recycling profile combining Recycling and re-use
  • Security - offering protection and preservation for diverse contents, from baby food to hazardous goods
  • Safety - steel's strength provides unrivalled protection against fire, rupture and leakage
  • Durability - reconditioning and recycling offering unlimited future use
  • Stackability - providing effective storage and transportation in all environments
  • Simple Compliance - for drum manufacturers and fillers to meet Producer Responsibility recycling targets

Steel Drum Recycling Infrastructure

The steel drum is the perfect example of a container which benefits from a higher effective and well-established infrastructure for reconditioning and recycling.


Unlike any other industrial packaging material, reconditioned steel drums have the advantage of meeting the same legal and safety requirements as new steel drums.

Steel drums have a significant re-use expectation and are serviced by a worldwide, dedicated reconditioning industry through licensed agents. Drum makers provide for the collection of used containers and the supply of reconditioned packaging, making multi-trip usage simple and cost-effective.


When steel drums have reached the end of their current life they can be easily recycled. Scrap drums are segregated and processed for return to processors where they are recycled to make new steel. This extensive infrastructure, combined with steel's magnetic properties, ensure a high quality of scrap, making steel drums the ideal choice for recycling.

Steel drums are often collected alongside other standard grades of steel scrap.

To ensure steel drum scrap is counted towards meeting recovery and recycling obligations, the UK Steel Association, the British Foundry Association and the British Metals Federation have signed a joint agreement with the Environment Agency that recognises the retrieval of commercial and industrial scrap.

Packaging Recovery Notes (PRNs) can be issued by reprocessors for this industrial packaging waste.

The Environmental Facts

Steel scrap is the only material recovered for recycling that is an essential ingredient for the production of new material, with all new steel containing up to 25 per cent recycled steel. This inherent recyclability makes it easier for companies which handle or use steel drums to meet their UK recycling targets, introduced on January 1998.

  • Recycling steel saves energy and natural resources
  • Every tonne of steel drums recycled saves:
    • 1.5 tonnes of iron ore
    • 70% of energy
    • 0.5 tonnes of coal
  • 40% of water required in production
  • All steel drums are reusable and recyclable
  • Steel retains all its properties through the recycling process
  • Extensive steel drum recovery infrastructure makes recycling easy for business

Steel Drum Facts

Steel drums have been around for generations - with good reason!..

The steel drum is incredibly versatile and one of the most recyclable products on the planet.

WIth established, standardised designs around the globe the steel drum retains the ability to be easily shipped worldwide and used in filling and emptying systems from the smallest to the largest scale operations.  

Steel drums can even change design-types, with many reconditioning operations having UN approvals to re-certify them from open-head / lid-fill to closed-head / bung-fill designs and still retain their ability to contain Dangerous Goods products.

The ability to handle such a vast range of products and reliably fill, ship, use and reuse steel drums around the world guarantees that the steel drum is here to stay for many more years to come.

The IPA continue to work closely with our European colleagues in the EU Steel Drum Manufacturer's Association; SEFA.  

The SEFA website and member details can be found at: