15 Ways to Upcycle Coffee Cans

April 10, 2012 Seven comments View all articles in Re-Use-It

As you know from reading our article Choosing Earth-Friendly Coffee, more than four hundred million cups of coffee are consumed per day by the United States' over-eighteen population. Given the current state of the economy, more and more coffee drinkers are snubbing their corporate, gourmet “fueling stations” in favor of home brewing. While purchasing coffee beans and grounds from the grocery store is a more cost-effective choice, it's one that ultimately leads to an increase in steel and aluminum cans. Already, Americans use about 36.5 billion cans a year. And while recycling saves at least 75 percent of the energy it takes to create steel from raw materials, its only beneficial if more consumers actually recycle their coffee cans.

And because recycling also takes a lot of energy, it's a good idea to re-use steel and aluminum products, such as coffee cans, as much as possible before sending them to your local recycling facility. With reducing, re-using, and recycling in mind, here are some suggestions of ways you can put your coffee cans to use around your home, garden, garage, and office.


Make a Simple Dehumidifier: Fill an empty coffee can with salt and leave it in the corner of your too-damp basement where it can absorb moisture from the air, undisturbed. Replace the salt every month or so as needed.

Soak a Paintbrush: Fill a coffee can with paint thinner, cut an X into the lid, and insert the brush handle so the bristles don't touch the bottom of the can. Your paint brushes can soak in the thinner and will be ready for you to continue your painting job in no time at all.

Tidy your Garage/Workshop: Drill a hole near the top of empty coffee cans so you can hang them on nails in your workspace wall, fill them with small items like screws, nuts, bolts, and nails, then label the cans with masking tape for added organization.

Make a Spot Lawn Seeder: If you have a couple plastic lids from other coffee cans, you can use them, in addition to the can itself, to fashion a precise spot seeder. Drill small holes in the bottom of the can, put one plastic lid over the bottom of the can, fill it with seeds, and then cap it with the other lid. When you're ready to spread the seeds over the bare spots on your lawn, take off the bottom lid, which can then be replaced to seal in any unused seeds for storage.

Gauge Sprinkler Coverage: Find out if your sprinkler is getting sufficient water to the areas it's supposed to cover by placing empty coffee cans around your garden. After watering, measure the depth of the water in the cans. If they measure at least an inch, you know your plants are being adequately watered.

Keep Toilet Paper Dry when Camping: Use a few empty coffee cans to keep toilet paper dry during rainy weather or when you're carrying supplies in a canoe or boat.

Tidy your Laundry Room: Keep an empty coffee can in your laundry room to collect candy wrappers, paper scraps, money, and other assorted items you find when emptying pockets.

Make a Bank: Whether collecting for a charity or saving up for a new pair of shoes, an empty coffee can makes the perfect bank! Just use a utility knife to cut a 1/8-inch slit in the center of the plastic lid, then tape decorate paper to the outside. Use a marker to write what you're collecting for on the sides of the can.

Collect Kitchen Scraps: Place a small plastic bag inside an empty coffee can and keep it near your kitchen sink to collect scraps and peelings. That way, you don't have to go back and forth to the garbage can and you can easily dump the bag's contents on the compost pile.

Create Luminaries: Freeze water in coffee cans, punch holes in pretty designs with a nail, thaw and dump the water, paint the can, and then put a lit candle inside. Luminaries are great porch and patio decorations, as well as useful sidewalk and driveway guides when hosting parties.

Protect Growing Melons: Push empty coffee cans into the soil and then plant melons inside. The can will protect the growing melons from insects and the temperature barrier provided by the can will help the melons ripen sooner.

Protect Cookies: Keep cookies from breaking and crumbling during shipment by packing them inside coffee cans. You can decorate the cans with fabric, wrapping paper, and/or ribbon before mailing them to add even more holiday cheer! What a great project to do with your kids!

Organize your Belts: Coffee cans are the perfect size for keeping belts from creasing; just roll them up and store them inside.

Make Planters: Use coffee cans for perennial transplants in the spring, or for giving away plant divisions to fellow gardeners. Wire several coffee cans together to make larger planters.

Use as a Crockpot: Placed on a campfire grill, empty coffee cans may be used as single-use Crockpots. For example, try placing vegetables like potatoes, cabbage, and carrots underneath bratwurst or veggie sausage inside the coffee can, then cover with tin foil. As the can heats, the juices from the sausages will drip down and flavor the vegetables. Yum!

(Photo: Suite101)


Ginny on Aug. 5, 2014 at 2:52 p.m.

I would be afraid of cooking in a can...Are toxins released when it's heated?

Annette on Aug. 6, 2014 at 7:21 a.m.

A trick learned many years ago as a Girl Scout still serves me well today. You can make a mini camp stove: use an old school can opener with the pointed triangle tip to punch a ring of holes around the openend of a large coffee can. Make a small fire and when the coals are ready, place your stove open side down over them. Then just use a small pot or makeshift aluminum foil ( non stick ) fry pan.

Another use for the same method above is to use the punched out can as a chimney style charcoal starter. Just add a wire handle. ( wrap the center of the wire around a pencil to form a coil. It helps keep the handle cooler.) Fill the can with briquettes, light , and when the coals are glowing, dump them into your grill.

marilyn wells on Aug. 6, 2014 at 6:41 p.m.

or punch hole in the lid sand in the bottom use for a large ashtray

Mary on Aug. 7, 2014 at 5:37 p.m.

If you cover the outside of you coffee can with shaving cream,being careful not to get it in the food, it will burn and fall off easily as one cleans the container, which then can be used again. This works with regular pots and pans on open flames or on a grill, as well.

Katie on Aug. 10, 2014 at 12:43 a.m.

All the coffee I buy come in plastic now. Do you have any ideas for them?

VALERIE COOPER on Aug. 29, 2014 at 7:03 p.m.

i use mine as a utensil holder...painted it a bright color and printed UTENSILS on it..smashing

susan on July 10, 2015 at 12:02 a.m.

Plastic coffee cans are great to keep in the car for a sick child, use as a first aid kit , store restaruant extra forks napkins ketchup etc

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