Did you know that the aluminum can your soda comes in can be recycled over and over? Recycling cans doesn’t just save resources, it uses less energy than creating a new can from virgin resources.
But before you pop those cans in the recycling, are you ready for a reuse project? We’ve assembled a list of projects — from easy and practical to challenging and downright adventurous — that reuse your aluminum cans.
Before you get started, note that aluminum is sharp and can cut you, so please exercise caution. These projects are not intended for children. And please recycle any aluminum scraps from your projects!
1. Light Redecorating
If you’re looking for a unique piece of décor, check out this pop-top lampshade from Sean in the Make Community. All you’ll need for this project is soda can tabs, a few basic tools, and lampshade top and bottom hoops. So, once you’ve snagged the tabs, please recycle the cans. With a little bit of effort and a lot of patience and time, you’ll end up with a distinctly stylish “chain mail” lampshade.
What you’ll need: soda can tabs (100 or more), pliers, flat blade screwdriver, needle nose pliers, side cutters, top and bottom lampshade hoops
2. Take It to the Bank
Literally put your can back into your wallet. Instructables explains how to create an RFID-proof soda can wallet out of two cans and some packing tape. Don’t forget to wash the sticky residue off your cans and watch out for sharp edges.
What you’ll need: aluminum cans (2), hobby knife/scissors, packing tape/duct tape, felt-tip pen, sandpaper
While a wallet chain may not be your style, we thought it was a super-easy and creative idea using soda can tabs. You’ll need to drink a lot of pop for this one — at least 132 cans, depending on the length of your chain. Instructables suggests visiting a local recycling center if you want to skip the obscene amount of soda ingestion.
What you’ll need: soda can tabs (132-152), heavy-duty wire cutters, key ring (1-2)
3. The Heat is On
Those attempting this project should use extreme caution. Instructables offers step-by-step instructions for making a fully functional stove from two aluminum cans. While the project may sound complicated, the materials needed are basic and can be found in the average household.
Bonus: The stove’s portability makes it ideal for your next camping trip. And forget that hot plate — this stove is small enough for the tiniest of studio apartments.
What you’ll need: aluminum cans (2), utility knife or single-edged razor blade, flue tape or heavy gage aluminum foil, thumbtacks or push pins and nail or drill, marking pen, ruler, a thick book, denatured alcohol for fuel
Optional: hammer and scissors
4. Holiday Ornaments
So, you’ve finally climbed up to the attic and dusted off the box of holiday decorations, only to find that your ceramic Santa smashed some of your favorite glass ornaments. Instead of spending time and money shopping for new ornaments, simply make a trip to your recycling bin. Daisy at Little House in the Suburbs suggests creating original ornaments from aluminum cans.
What you’ll need: aluminum cans, scissors, sandpaper, pen or pencil, a nail, ribbon, or cord
5. A Girl’s Best Friend
Although we didn’t find how-to guide for making your own diamonds (we wish!), this tutorial from Rena Klingenberg shows you have to make stylish earrings from an aluminum can. While the construction is straightforward, an artistic eye will come in handy. Use acrylic paint to customize your earrings for that hard-to-match purple cardigan.
What you’ll need: aluminum can, kitchen shears, safety goggles and protective gloves, decorative paper punches, small-hole paper punch or jewelry punch, earring hooks, jump rings, chain nose/flat nose pliers, super-fine Sharpie marker, small charms
Optional: acrylic paints, finish varnish
6. Tote Bag With Flair
You might have sustainable reusable bags made from recycled plastics, hemp, or recycled fabric, but do you have a pop can purse? Add some fun to your shopping trips with this project from Craftster. You’ll need to do some sewing and crocheting, so if you don’t have experience, it may be helpful to pick up a how-to book.
Instructables offers a variation of this bag that incorporates T-shirts for the lining and bamboo for the handles.
What you’ll need: aluminum cans (10), scissors, paper hole-punch, sport-weight yarn, size “H” crochet hook, sturdy fabric (such as denim), sewing machine
7. This Little Light of Mine
Tea light candles create a cozy ambiance for any occasion, from dinner parties to cuddling up with your favorite novel. Add a special touch to your lighting with a lantern and tea light holder made from aluminum cans. While the holder’s design looks complicated, it’s a simple project — it just requires a steady hand and a couple of craft tools. Check out DIY Everywhere for step-by-step guidance and a how-to video. The design calls for slicing the cans with sharpened blades, so it’s a good idea to wear protective gloves.
What you’ll need: aluminum cans, can opener, pumice stone/sand paper, exacto knife, wire (30 cm.), wire cutters, votive candle
8. Get Organized
Can you never find a pen when you need it? Choose a colorful, empty soda can to make a creative pen holder. If you’d like, cover the can with construction paper and add personal designs with markers, paints, or other craft materials to “jazz it up.” Since the average soda can is lightweight, try adding a magnet or gluing a flat piece of wood to keep the holder upright when packed full of pens.
What you’ll need: aluminum can, can opener, hammer, weighted material (such as a magnet)
Optional: markers, paint, construction paper, scissors, glue
9. Firsthand Recycling
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you could try your hand at recycling the aluminum in cans in a much more direct way — melt them down and reuse the aluminum yourself!
If you’ve got a decent kiln and crucible, you can turn your former aluminum cans into drink holders or whatever you set your mind to. Just be sure to clean the cans thoroughly, dry them out, and make sure there’s no residue left behind before you start.
What you’ll need: aluminum cans, kiln (wood, gas, electric), crucible (with higher melting point than your furnace, such as steel), heat resistant gloves, tongs, molds for pouring aluminum.
10. It’s Aluminum (Can) Siding
One man took reuse to a level very few others can claim to have reached. After getting “sick of mowing the grass,” John Milkovisch began inlaying marbles, rocks, and metal pieces into concrete to form unique landscaping figures. When the yard was completely covered, he started on the house.
Over the next 18 years, he covered the house with an estimated 50,000 beer cans that he turned into aluminum siding, garlands, and curtains. His efforts even lowered his energy bills. Today, you can visit the Beer Can House in Houston and see what his years of effort accomplished.
What you’ll need: aluminum cans (50,000+), concrete, redwood, additional metal scraps, rocks, marbles, architectural knowledge, community teamwork, multiple years, patience
Raquel Fagan and Taylor Ratcliffe contributed to this article.
Feature image courtesy of Ishikawa Ken
Editor’s note: Originally published on November 23, 2009, this article was updated in February 2020.