Recycling when there is no recycling program. Part 3: steel cans

In coming up for uses for discarded materials in Rundu, Namibia where I serve as a Peace Corps volunteer, I was stuck with what to do with the numerous steel food cans we had acquired. A few ideas are below.

Idea #1: Flowerpots

Early on I made a few of the larger cans into flowerpots using shitenge material for decoration (colorful fabric that is available at the local market). I just cleaned the can, removed the label, poked a few holes in the bottom with a screwdriver and then cut and attached the fabric. Some of the glue remained when I removed the labels and this worked pretty well to stick the fabric on, but I also tied some string around each pot.


Thanks to my counterpart for the plants which grow very well from cuttings and have been one of the few decorative plants that seem to thrive here.

Idea #2: Rocket stoves

I started to do more research and found out about “rocket stoves.” These stoves use a chimney effect to produce very high heat and don’t use much fuel, only requiring twigs or small pieces of scrap wood. I built a prototype just using a pocketknife and scissors, but due to the amount of metal cutting needed, tin snips would be much more helpful. Besides the need for a good tool to cut the cans, all other materials can be found very easily. You just need one large food can (or paint can) and four regular size cans. Sand, which is very plentiful in Namibia, can be used as the insulation material inside the large can.

A great set of step-by-step instructions can be found on

Instructables rocket stove

Image of rocket stove by darrinmcl (My first protoype is not photo-worthy).

Idea #3: Tea light holder (and maybe food warmers)

A much more simple product. Just use tin snips, scissors or a knife to cut a can about two-thirds of the way down and then punch holes around the can in a pattern. A paper hole punch actually works well for this and you will build up forearm strength! A wire could be attached and these could be hung outdoors as small candle lanterns to create a nice ambiance. This could also be used to keep food warm if a pot is placed on the tea light holder. And I once paid for a chafing dish set!

tea light holder

Tin snips would have produced a cleaner cut than the knife I used but you get the idea.

A much more aesthetically-pleasing larger candle holder can be made with a steel food can, basic welding skills and a small welding torch.

recycled materials candle holder

Recycled materials candle holder courtesy of our friend and fellow PCV, JT, who found this in her house. This product will be a great demonstration to the COSDEC business club and to our welding trainees.

Idea #4: Tuna can stove

This stove is a very similar concept to the aluminum can stoves I made in a previous post, but this is even easier! All you need is an empty tuna can and a hole punch. Punch a series of holes in two rows around the can, fill with denatured alcohol (here it is sold as methyl alcohol) and light. The cooking pot can be placed right on the top of the stove. (Demonstrated here but in my test run this did not work very well.) Similar to the aluminum can stoves, a windscreen should be used to make sure the heat is being efficiently directed to the pot. It does not seem to burn as cleanly and efficiently as the smaller aluminum can stove, but it does work.

Tuna can stove

Tuna can stove. This could also be used as a tea light holder.


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