May 28, 2013

Liz Swafford: Reusing pet food cans before recycling

By Liz Swafford

— Last week I got a special request from a reader who wants to reuse pet food cans, especially the small ones for cat food. I didn’t have any immediate ideas, but after a little bit of searching I did find several creative ways to use the cans again. Most of these pet food can crafts can be adapted for larger bi-metal cans, like the ones we get our soups and veggies in.  

First off, I have to tell you that the pet food cans are recyclable since they’re made with aluminum. I found some cat food cans here at the Recycling Center in the bin used for storing cans before baling them. After rinsing them out I noticed that they have a white liner on the inside. You’ve probably seen it, too, and wondered if they really are recyclable or contaminate the recycling process.  

According to the Can Manufacturers Institute (, the white liner is protective barrier that helps preserve the food, and can be plastic or water based. During the recycling process that thin layer is burned off, leaving the aluminum itself to be recycled. An estimated 52 percent of aluminum cans are recycled; however, the majority of those are beverage cans.  

It’s easy to leave out cat food cans since they may seem small, thin and even extra dirty. The thinness of aluminum cans reflects the improvements in the can manufacturing process. Nowadays one pound of aluminum can produce 34.21 cans, as opposed to 21.75 cans per pound back in 1975.

Worried about the ick factor? Just rinse out your can and the lid and put it in your recycling bin. After all, recycling one 3-ounce aluminum cat food can saves enough energy to power a 60-watt light bulb for more than two hours, while recycling a 5.5-ounce can saves enough energy to power a 30-inch (95W) TV for more than two hours.

Here are a few reuse ideas and crafts for those small pet food cans that can be reused before being recycled. Before you begin, wash your cans with soap and water to remove the package label, food residues and offensive smells. Watch out for sharp edges, too. Even cans with a pull top lid can leave a sharp rim that will need to be pressed down to avoid injuries, especially for kids.

• Organizer or holder: Place a clean cat food can inside an office drawer to hold small items like paper clips or thumbtacks. Fill a drawer at home with several cans to create an organized space for hair clips, bobby pins, ponytail holders and other small things that can get lost in the shuffle. If you’re feeling crafty, line the inside of the can with fabric, attaching it with a glue gun, and decorate the outside with colorful paper.  

• Candleholder: Tea light candles, and other candles with a small base, will fit comfortably inside a pet food can. To make tea light candles stand out, punch holes along the top rim of the can using a hole-punch or hammer and nails.  

• Small vase: Clip several clothespins around a small pet food can until the whole can is covered. You’ll end up with a small wooden vase that can hold pens, flowers, candles or even photos.

• Decoupage: Match the décor of your home when you cover any size pet food can with tissue paper, glue and glitter in your favorite colors. Simply tear scraps of tissue paper or other scrap paper into small pieces. Cover the can with glue and attach the paper scraps. Seal with one extra layer of glue and add glitter.

• Doll house accessories:  A 5.5-ounce pet food can would be a great swimming pool for a doll house. Simply color the outside to resemble an above ground pool, and fill it with some water colored with one drop of blue food coloring. A smaller 3-ounce can may be decorated to resemble a dinner table, or even a trampoline.

• Toy robot or puppets: Use a combination of cans, bottle caps, nuts and bolts to create a unique toy robot. Or, cut out a set of eyes, a smiling mouth and a pair of arms from scrap paper, then glue them onto a can to make a unique puppet. Enjoy playing with the upcycled toys and creating stories about the planet where everyone, even robots, recycle.

• Pin cushion: Fill a small can with stuffing, then cover it with a piece of fabric. Hold down the fabric with a ribbon, rubber band or hot glue. Trim fabric and decorate the rest of the can with the decoupage method or other matching fabric scraps.

Liz Swafford is the recycling and education program coordinator for the Dalton-Whitfield Solid Waste Authority. Have questions about recycling in Whitfield County? Call (706) 278-5001 or email