Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Save and Reuse Your Tin/Aluminum Food Cans

For both environmental and economical reasons, we could all do with reducing, reusing, and recycling more often. Case in point: the numerous organizers and containers we buy that could easily be replaced with repurposed food tins.

We all buy food items in aluminum (or tin) cans--ravioli, soup, baked beans, you name it. Most of us are conscientious enough to put our used tin cans in the recycling bin.

But why not wash them out and reuse them?

First, you'll need a smooth-edge can opener like the OXO Good Grips Smooth Edge Can Opener. This leaves a smooth edge on both the can and the lid.

FYI: Leave the label on, and you've got a "dummy can" that can fool burglers. Stash emergency cash or expensive jewelry in it, place the lid back on, and put it back in your pantry. With the label intact, a thief will never guess what's really hidden inside!

For everyday stuff, peel off the label before washing the can. (Place the lid in the recycling bin.) Voila! There you are--a can that can be used for storing any number of things around the house, garage, or classroom.

Use it for:
  1. Pen and pencil bin.
  2. Paint brushes (or paint).
  3. Loose "junk" in a drawer.
Crafty? Wrap the tin can in black gaffer tape or designer duct tape. You can even use fancy chalkboard sticker labels to label each can's contents.

There's no need to stop with tin cans. To the left is a creamer bottle I washed. It used to contain powdered cream for my coffee. The creamer label was a wrapped plastic sheet that tore away easily. I filled it with extra pencils. I can unscrew the top if I want, or pop the top and "pour" out one pencil at a time. I can mark each bottle "colored pencils" or "markers" or "sharpies" using a sharpie, or using the fancy chalkboard labels already mentioned.

The plastic tubs keep markers from drying out! I use enough creamer in my coffee (and I drink A LOT of coffee) to collect many of these. They are very convenient for organizing student materials.

In junior and senior high school Social Studies/History classes, we write and draw on a lot of maps. The trick? Keep about a dozen of these, filled with a handful of colored pencils, markers, etc., as well as an inexpensive 6" ruler. (With high school kids, I've cut freebie bendable plastic rulers in half!) When map time comes around, each pair of students (or each student, if there are enough containers) gets a plastic bottle of drawing supplies. It's so easy and convenient! And with screw-on lids, the contents don't fall out.

The moral of this story? Think before you toss items into the recycling bin. Take the container, remove its labels, and wash it out. Give it a long, hard look. What can you use it for? You'd be surprised how many ideas come to mind.


  • Use an orange peel to remove gummy labels (soaking in warm water also works).
  • Use nail polish remover to remove stamped-on expiration dates.
  • Use duct tape to cover up labels that can't be removed.