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6 Cool Can Crafts 5

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Aluminum, tin, and steel cans are best recycled — but they’ve got an incredible amount of DIY potential, too.

What would we do without canned food? It’s got an incredibly long shelf life, and the tamper-resistant container lets you rest easy knowing your food hasn’t been messed with. What’s more, canned goods can be an environmentally-responsible choice: They can reduce food waste since they don’t spoil as quickly as produce, and the metal with which they are made is eminently recyclable.

But once you’ve eaten those beans or tomatoes, what do you do with the can? Hopefully you’ve recycled it, and probably, you have. Steel cans are one of the most recycled materials; 71 percent of cans are recycled. Another fun fact: 80 to 90 percent of all steel ever produced is still in use today, since it is so recyclable.

But if reusing and repurposing is more your style than recycling, then you’re in luck. Just as the metal can is infinitely recyclable, it’s also infinitely usable in craft projects. I only had to look as far as Pinterest and some of my favorite style and craft bloggers to find some great ways to upcycle my cans next time I make a big batch of chili. Here are a few of my favorite projects:

1. Cute Succulent Planters: One crafter was inspired by the limited edition Andy Warhol Campbell’s Soup labels, turning the colorful retro cans into little planters. So next time you admire the design on a can label, buy up a few and follow the instructions to turn them into mini planters (they look better in a group). Or, trim off the label and use it as a template to create your own label to decoupage onto some cans.

2. Tin-Punched Lanterns: In this tutorial from Inhabitat, a pretty design is created on graph paper, then punched into a can for a lovely votive lamp that casts glowing patterned shadows. If you buy coffee in a can, you can even use the oversized cans to make larger lanterns that can hang from wires. Or, use a hole saw to cut out a hole in the bag big enough to insert nightlight hardware.

3. Reusable Storage: A British design student came up with a great idea: Plastic toppers that gave cans new purpose, like a toothbrush holder, a vase, or a soap dispenser, for instance. It’s an idea reminiscent of all the accessories that make Mason jars so multipurpose (LED insert, anyone?). Sadly, his idea never seemed to make it to production — but it doesn’t mean you can’t repurpose your cleaned cans for other storage or organizing projects. Use cans creatively to store stuff like sewing notions, craft materials, or office supplies (it’s not a good idea to save food in the cans, since the metal can leach into your food — and whether or not BPA from the can lining is also leaching into your food is an entirely different matter).

4. Pedestal Stand: A plate or bowl on a pedestal makes a great centerpiece, helps make more room on a buffet table, and offers a lovely focal point. I love this project from Sweet Paul that uses mismatched plates and a painted tin can to make a footed pedestal (he uses a long, skinny asparagus can for an especially elegant presentation!).

5. Citronella Candles: Save up the stubs of old candles and melt them down with citronella and other essential oils for a poured citronella candle that will keep the bugs away at your next patio party. Here’s how, from Garden Therapy.

6. Tin Can Stilts: A couple of the same-sized cans and some twine are pretty much all you need to make a pair of stilts that will provide hours of fun outside. Little kids will have better luck with shorter cans, such as tuna cans, while big kids will get a kick out of larger cans like coffee cans. Let the kids decorate the stilts with acrylic paint first if you’d like.

Can Manufacturers Institute


What are you favorite craft projects to do with your old food cans? Share in the comments below. 

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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan

I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same.

  • Duane W. 4 days ago
    I like the pedestal stand idea!
  • Susan P. 1 month ago
    Thanks for the post about mascara wands. I would have known about this.
  • Lynne H. 1 month ago
    Please do NOT throw away your mascara wands. Instead, clean JUST THE WAND with dawn soap, place them in a ziploc bag and mail them to a Wildlife Refuge accepting donations. These little wands are able to be upcycled to clean away oil, larvae, fly eggs, mites, infections, mud and other contaminants from wildlife. Works great for medical care and wound treatment

    Pick your refuge to mail to:

    Appalachian Wild
    P.O. Box 1211
    Skyland NC 28776


    Wildlife Wands
    P.O. Box 1586
    Southwick, MA 01077.
    • Rebecca D. 1 month ago
      Thanks/never thought about that.
    • Gina L. 5 days ago
      Thanks again for this great site. I have cleaned out my bathroom cabinets and sent them on. I would love more ideas like this for other junk/stuff thing that can place a positive on the environment.
  • Susan M. 2 months ago
    We use them for our herb garden(s). Cans are light and can easily be moved and brought in for easy harvest.
  • sherry m. 2 months ago
    Concerned for safety when using punched tin to make lanterns. The candle heats the tin and could easily cause someone to get burned. I like the craft of punched tin without using candles. It's still beautiful and requires skill.
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