sodacan.jpg Aluminum cans are found everywhere. Globally, 180 billion of them are used every year! Luckily for us, aluminum can be recycled almost indefinitely into new items. Another environmentally friendly alternative that can be more fun than recycling is to upcycle them yourself into useful and creative projects. Upcycling aluminum cans breathes new life into the old cans while minimizing energy or fossil fuel costs associated with traditional recycling programs. Before diving into these aluminum can upcycling projects, start with cleaning the cans. Otherwise, what could have been a fun project may end up as a sticky mess. In order to conserve water, I simply filled up my sink halfway with warm water and added a little soap and Clorox. Throw the cans into the water and shake them around a bit before placing them upside down on a towel to dry. While your at it, start pulling off the tabs as you go and set them aside – our last project will require a whole lot of them.


One of the most basic and useful ways you can use aluminum cans is as containers. From holding plants to organizing screws and nails in your garage, a few extra containers are always useful. This project is the definition of easy, all you need is any number of aluminum cans you wish to turn into containers and a can opener. You will open the can differently than you would a normal tin can. Use your can opener on the lip of the can – where your mouth would touch – to get a smooth cut around the rim. A few of your cans will likely not cut smoothly, but I would recommend saving these ones for the next project or recycling them instead of risking possible cuts. To really put this project to use, gather up an assortment of different beverage company cans. You can then use different brands to hold different items. For example, you could use Coke for long nails, Diet Coke for short nails, Dr. Pepper for screws and Diet Dr. Pepper for short screws. Finish off your project by printing out a little chart of each brands contents and voila! You have a Warholesque – and tidy – garage.


Need a little Zen in your life? This simple project can turn your relaxation spot into a sanctuary of calmness. By harnessing the soothing light of candles and creating relaxing patterns of light, these candleholders can add depth to your chill time. Start your project by repeating the first project – cut off those tops. Next, you’re going to give your cans a spray of paint. This step isn’t required, but who wants a bunch of corporate logos infringing on your Zen moments? Finally, you need to be able to see the candlelight to enjoy it. Take a sharp nail and poke an interesting series of holes into the cans. Make them all one theme or try a variety of designs. After you’re finished designing your candleholders, simply place tealight candles in the bottom of each one and use a barbecue lighter to reach down in and light them.

Passive heat solar panel

Can you see your breath indoors during winter? Is your thermostat turned off to conserve energy? Turn a pile of aluminum cans into a passive heat solar panel that will cut your electric bill down and let you take off that second sweater. This project is going to require a bit more planning and materials – but the outcome is worthwhile. To create your new solar heating system, you will be using the aluminum cans’ high heat conductivity to heat air moving through them. To do this, you will first need to make a large rectangular yet shallow box with one large side open. This frame should be insulated on all sides, except the open face. The size will vary depending on the amount of warm air you are attempting to produce. I’d recommend not going below an area that can fit 100 cans. Your rectangular box will eventually be placed at an angle to capture the most sunlight – think of a traditional solar panel and how it is aimed at the sun. At the bottom will be a hole for air to come into the system, and at the top will be a hole for hot air to escape. With your frame built, you will then cut holes in the bottom and top of each can. Next, you will want to spray paint your cans black, so they can soak in as much heat as possible. The cans will then be laid inside your frame and stacked vertically. Use some metal duct tape to attach the cans together – top to bottom. Finally, when your wooden frame is packed tight with the painted vertical towers of cans, you will cover the side facing the sun with an appropriately sized window pane. With your passive solar system almost ready, all you need to do is attach the air intake and outtake via dryer venting to the area you need heated. The system works by heating the air passing through the cans, which causes this air to rise. As the air moves upward, it is forced out of the outtake duct while cool air is pulled into the intake duct. Experiment with a fan placed at the outtake to get the proper flow of air through the system if need be.

Bracelet or belt

Now that you have saved up a lot of tabs from all your aluminum can projects, why not put them to use? For this project, all you need is some accessory cord, aluminum tabs and some spare time. If you want to get fancy, you can add in a buckle or other fastening system to connect the two ends together. To begin, you are going to need roughly 20 to 30 tabs for a bracelet and 90 to 130 tabs for a belt. As per the amount of cord, you will need somewhere around three feet for a bracelet and somewhere between 11 and 15 feet for a belt. The first step will be to cut your accessory cord and then mark the exact center. Loop your cord through the two holes of the first tab with the free ends exiting on the rougher side of the tab – the unseen side when looking at an unopened can. Loop the next tab facing the opposite direction so the two rough sides are touching. You will then loop the cord back through the first tab before adding a third. Continue looping the cord up and down and adding a new tab every cycle. Make sure all tabs are facing the same direction and the rough sides are all touching so your belt or bracelet looks uniform. Experiment with different cord patterns to achieve a new look. Once you have reached your required length, you can either use a little more cord to loop through both ends and tie them together or attach a buckle so it can be removed more easily. There are many other ways in which you could upcycle aluminum cans. Which projects have you tried? Tell me your story of upcycling at @ResfordRouzer on Twitter.