How can I reuse or recycle large (catering size) food cans?

Sam has emailed asking about large food cans:

I have a number of large metal food cans, some zinc lined, which are called #10 size. They hold about 5 or 6 lbs (just under 3kg) of beans, or other foods. Now that they’re empty, they are open on one end, with no plastic lid to fit them. Any ideas?

Surely I’m not the only one faced with this. I can recycle them, but would like to reuse them.

They sound like pretty big tin cans – probably similar to what we call “catering size” in the UK. I think at least some of the ideas we have for regular size tin cans could be supersized here: plant pots, candle/tea holders for several candles, or using them as a vessel for making those candles in the first place.

But are there any reuses (or upcycling ideas) that are perfect for these bigger cans? Could the can be flattened out to make anything?

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21 Responses to “How can I reuse or recycle large (catering size) food cans?”

  1. Briony says:

    Use them as planters…

    BUT if you don’t like gardening, please can I have them?? I have designed a charity garden which features hanging baskets made of catering cans!!! This is how I found your request online.

    Please email me if you wish to do this, and I am happy to pay for postage, or even collect if you are not far away.

    I am in LEEDS


    • Anonymous says:

      I have some large cans I got from our local school. I think it’s great what you are doing. Let me know how I get these to you. I live in South Louisiana.

  2. bookstorebabe says:

    I’ve seen hanging lanterns, and lamp shades for hanging lamps, made of these. You can punch holes with a hammer and nail to make designs. First, you fill it with water and freeze it-that holds the can rigid and lets you hammer nails without the can bending.
    Make small buckets? Drill a hole on either side to string a handle.
    Turn them upside down, and use them to add height to some potted plants? Nice to have varied heights when you have a lot together.
    Make lids from cardboard and masking tape. Cover with paper mache. It’s surprisingly sturdy. Not for outdoor use, obviously!

  3. Melinda says:

    I recall cans being used as emergency camping stoves in my Girl Scout days. I’m sure instructions are online.

  4. Kasia says:

    We used colourful old olive oil containers to make a shelf under our kitchen bench – they hold up the planks at either end and are lovely to look at. Been there for about ten years and going strong…

  5. Patti Myers says:

    Here is a website where you can make footstools out of the cans. I did one out of smaller ones but these would be better.

  6. Olia says:

    Make a drum for a little kid.

  7. Craig says:

    Hey guys, they would make a perfect planter as I think l read someone had already posted. There’s a pub near to me that has things like this in their garden to hold plants, cutlery and herbs. Think they are really classy and of course friendly to the environment. I’m gonna be after some items like this to do a garden with in the next couple of months! Any old tins or containers like this just give me a shout :)

  8. Toni says:

    There are lots of great ideas for reusing large commercial size (#10) cans here, from cubbies to a rotating flower stand.

  9. Andrew S says:

    When used as herb planters, they look good when clustered together at different heights (like those plastic desk tidies). You can join them together by drilling holes in the sides and connecting by nuts and bolts.

    Obviously, use an arrangement that stands up on its own!

  10. Ulechka says:

    If you connect two of them, you can even improvise a mailbox.

  11. kolef says:

    You can make great floodlights for a rock band. Install an electric light socket on the inside base of a can and run the wires out the base.
    Fit the outside of the can with a clamp or some system that allows you to attach the can to a pipe and adjust the angle of the can.
    Make an eight foot tall stand out of aluminum pipe with a Tee at the top, which allows you to attach two floodlights on either side.
    Run an AC dropbox up the stand so you can plug the lights in.
    Use about 100 feet of electrical and connect to a control box with individual dimmers for each of the floods. Rock out!

  12. Run a string and use them as telephones! :)

  13. Adam Barnett says:

    You can plant some flowers in the cans… Or use them as vases…

  14. Anna says:

    You can decorate the cans and plant flowers in them.

  15. Kevin says:

    Turn it into a barbecue fire starter chimney for charcoal. Check it out on youtube

  16. Paul G says:

    We have invented a super strong stainless steel manual crushing machine for the size 10 catering can and larger. We call it the model 5001. Search YouTube for icrush 5001
    At present its made to order but if there is more interest we can batch produce and have them in stock in the UK and US.
    If you crush these catering cans you can then contact a local steel / metal recycler and ask how many cans do you need to make it worthwhile for the recycler to collect them

  17. Janjo says:

    Hi,I’m in the UK and am looking for empty catering cans to make two washer box games

  18. Jen says:

    We use these all the time with our local Scouts. We make chimneys and vagabond stoves for camping. They always come in handy. We also cut or nail holes in them to make lanterns. Contact your local Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts to see if they can use them first.

  19. Matt says:

    If you have a compost pile or know someone who does you can put food scraps in them

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