14 Clever Uses for Trash Cans

Even though we often spend money buying items that will make great additions to our preps, there are many things around the house that can be used in tough times.

One of these is the simple trashcan. You might be amazed at the uses to which you can put in it, with a little ingenuity and creativity.

trash cans

Why Trashcans? Why not? Trashcans are everywhere! Everyone has at least one. Because they are so readily available, they make a prefect prepping item.

But there is more to it than just their availability. Trashcans are:

  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Incredibly durable
  • Available in different materials for different uses (you’ll see more about this below)
  • Available in different sizes
  • Have a lid
  • Are easy to transport

So how many uses are there for trashcans? Well, let’s just say they aren’t just for trash.

Because they are so versatile, trashcans can have a TON of alternative uses. Let’s take a look at each of these in more detail.

Homemade Rain Barrel

To collect rainwater and ensure it can easily be used to water your garden and put to use in other ways, you will need to rig your trashcan to be a rain barrel. This is very easy to do. For this, you will need the following materials:

  • Rubbermaid or similar trash can
  • Window screen
  • Set of 3 conduit locknuts
  • 2 ½-inch boiler drains
  • 4 flat metal washers
  • 4 rubber washers

You will also need the following tools for the job:

  • Screwdriver
  • Staple gun
  • Scissors
  • Pliers
  • Utility knife

To make the rain barrel, follow these steps:

  1. Cut a hole in the trashcan 3-4 inches from the bottom. This will be for the faucet, so you don’t want to make the hole too big. Slightly bigger than ½ inch in diameter, which will be just big enough for the faucet to slide in.
  2. The metal washer should now be threaded onto the faucet and then the rubber washer is put on behind it.
  3. The faucet should now be put through the hole so the spigot is on the outside of the barrel.
  4. Place another rubber washer on the end of the faucet that is inside the can.
  5. Screw the locknut on securely with the use of the pliers.
  6. Ideally you will add another faucet about 3-4 inches from the top of the trashcan. For this faucet, you repeat the process.
  7. Place the screen over the can, stapling it to the top. Cut off any excess screen.
  8. If desired, put the lid over the screen and cut a hole in the lid. You can cut along a depression in the lid if there is one, which will guide the shape and size of the hole, but essentially you want it to be a bout 6-8 inches in diameter. The lid will help prevent debris from weighing down your screen.
  9. Choose a water spout at which to place the rain barrel and cut it to the desired height so that it will feed directly into your barrel. You can then reattach the curved piece at the end of the spout and place the barrel beneath it.

Once you have your rain barrel in place, you can attach your hose to either of the faucets on the barrel and have rainwater to use as needed.

credits go to Year Zero Survival

To Make a Meat Smoker

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Trash cans make the least expensive meat smokers. This is because the can itself, all you need are a cooking grate (that fits), an electric hot plate, a round metal tin, cherry wood chips, and a heavy duty knife to make the trashcan holes.

Watch how to do it here:

How to Make a Meat Smoker with a Trash Can - Better Bacon Book

To Grow Your Container Garden

Growing food in a trashcan is easy. Be sure the can is made from food-grade plastic. Some Rubbermaid trashcans are food-safe and you need to check before using it.

Once you have your trashcans, fill them with soil and fertilizer or compost and plant to your heart’s content.

You can use different sizes of trashcans depending on what you want to grow. Large trashcans are particularly good for growing potatoes because you can start the plant low and fill the trashcan as the potato plant grows.

This will grow a large amount of potatoes, but it is good to cut away the side of the trashcan and secure it with a removable piece so that you can harvest the potatoes more easily.

Making a Faraday Cage

You can use a galvanized steel trashcan to make a Faraday cage that will protect your electronic devices from an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) cause by a nuclear detonation or strong solar storm.

To Protect Your Stockpile From Rodents

A sturdy metal trashcan with no holes in it will do a good job at protecting your food supplies from mice, rats and other pests.

Food commercial packaging is definitely NOT rodent-proof, so a trash can can help solve that problem.

Making a Rocket Stove

A galvanized steel trashcan can also be made into a rocket stove. For this, you will need the following supplies:

  • Trashcan
  • 2 feet of 6-inch stove pipe
  • 2 feet of 8-inch stove pipe
  • 1 6-inch elbow
  • 2 trim rings
  • ½-inch metal plate
  • Self-tapping screws
  • 1 3/8-inch threaded rod
  • Nuts to fit the threaded rod
  • 6-inch-wide sheet metal
  • 2 large bags of vermiculite

Follow these steps to make the rocket stove:

  1. Use a plastic lid from a 10-inch tin can and a sharpie to trace a hole 1-2 inches from the bottom of the trashcan.
  2. Use metal cutters to cut the hole, cutting ½ an inch from the line marking the hole. Be careful as the edges of the metal are very sharp.
  3. Next, cut the ½-inch edge of the hole into tiny tabs. Many ½-inch cuts will be made perpendicular to the edge of the hole.
  4. Fold these tabs into the trashcan, taking care not to cut yourself!
  5. Insert the elbow into the hole.
  6. Attach the 6-inch pipe to the elbow and mark it 1 inch below the top of the can.
  7. Using whatever method is available to you, such as a cut-off wheel, cut the pipe where you marked it. File down the sharp edges of the pipe and save the shorter piece of pipe.
  8. Use a mallet to attach the longer length of pipe to the elbow and ensure it is the right height in the trashcan.
  9. Use self-tapping screws to secure the pipe to the elbow.
  10. Attach the short piece of pipe to the other end of the elbow in the same manner.
  11. Place a trim ring over the long section of pipe. Make sure it is inverted and sits where the pipe meets the elbow.
  12. Cut the 8-inch pipe so that it is about 2 inches shorter than the 6-inch pipe and place the larger pipe over the smaller pipe.
  13. Put it in the trashcan with the ½-inch metal plate under the elbow to keep it off the bottom of the can.
  14. Cut the threaded rod into four pieces that are the length of the distance from the 6-inch pipe to 1 inch beyond the edge of the trashcan.
  15. Drill four evenly spaced holes at the top of the trashcan and into the 8-inch pipe and install the threaded rod so that the ends touch the outside of the 6-inch pipe.
  16. Secure the threaded rods with interior and exterior nuts.
  17. Slide the 6-inch sheet metal into the opening of the stove at the bottom. This will be what the fuel is laid on.
  18. Fill the gap between the two pipes with vermiculite.
  19. Place the second trim ring on top of the pipes.
  20. Pour vermiculite into the trashcan, filling it about 2/3 full.
  21. You can use any old grate laid across the top of the stove as a cooking surface.

credits go to Instructables.com for this one

You can see a video of a trash can rocket stove being made here. Note this method does not use the double pipe.

Rocket Stove 20 Gallon (Full Video)

An an Alternative Burn Barrel

In a survival situation, burning trash will be essential to your family’s health. If you don’t have a burn barrel, a metal trash can may do the trick (for burning smaller quantities, of course.

Just try to keep the flames small, and to dissipate the smoke so you don’t draw too much attention.

Making a Trashcan Toilet

You can use a small trashcan as a toilet. All you need is a seat, which can easily be made by laying a couple of 2x4s across the top of the trashcan.

Just be sure to place a double-layer of heavy duty garbage bags in the trashcan. These can be closed up for easy waste removal.

As Snow Shovel

Small trashcans that are very sturdy can be used for snow removal when needed. It’s not ideal (hard on the back), but works great when the need arises, and there are no other alternatives.

As “AC Units” for Your Chickens

I found this online, and it’s probably the cutest use so far!

Simply put the trash can on its side, and add a few ice packs inside. Your chicks will feel cool during those hot, summer days!

Container for Emergency Supplies

Trashcans can be used to store and transport emergency supplies. Trashcans of all sizes are usable, provided they are made of durable material. You can use them to store all sorts of things, such as:

  • Food
  • Water
  • First-aid supplies
  • Tools
  • Sanitation supplies
  • Clothing and bedding
  • Camping gear
  • Other essentials

When packing these supplies, you need to arrange them properly.  Any water should be placed at the bottom of the trashcan and ensure heavy items are at the bottom, with lighter items at the top.

These can be prepacked for the whole family and be ready to throw into the car or truck if you need to get out of Dodge in a hurry.

Making a Compost Bin

If you’re looking to compost in a small space, a trash can can make the perfect bin for this purpose. This is one example of how to do it:

DIY Trash Can Compost Bin

Making an Evaporative Cooler

Finally, a trashcan can make a great evaporative cooler, which is a fabulous – and free! – form of air conditioning. For this you will need the following materials:

  • 36-44 gallon heavy-duty Rubbermaid (or equivalent brand) trashcan, including the lid
  • 12-foot x 29-inch evaporative cooler pad
  • 6-foot x 24-inch chicken wire or hardware cloth
  • Submersible 12-volt bilge pump
  • 10 feet of ½-inch irrigation tubing
  • ½-inch T-connector to be used for irrigation
  • Solar fan or automobile radiator fan
  • 16-inch diameter HVAC tubing
  • Big drain pan
  • 3 U-bolts
  • Solar panel
  • Deep-cycle battery

To make the cooler, follow these steps:

  1. Use a drill bit designed to cut doorknob holes to drill 2.5-inch-diameter holes all around the sides of the trashcan, leaving the bottom 10 inches of the can hole-free.
  2. Take two layers of the blue evaporative cooler padding and line the inside of the can.
  3. Secure the padding with chicken wire or hardware cloth.
  4. Drill the U-bolts through the sides of the can to keep the chicken wire or hardware cloth
  5. Form the ½-inch irrigation pipe into a circle and close the circle using the ½-inch T-connector.
  6. Approximately every two inches, drill tiny holes into the bottom of the pipe circle. It is from here that water will drip.
  7. Set the 12-volt submersible pump into the bottom of the can and connect it to the drip ring using ½-inch tubing.
  8. Feed the wires through one of the holes so they can be connected to the battery.
  9. Cut a circle out of the lid of the trashcan that is slightly smaller than the fan you will use. Then you can mount the fan, ensuring that it is positioned so that it will blow up and out of the can. You can install a switch if you wish.
  10. Wire the fan to the battery (which is wired to the solar panel), ideally using solder.
  11. Put the cooler in a catchment basin so that the water that drips out will be collected. You can use this water for any number of things, such as watering the garden.

credits: Instructables

Turn it Into Furniture

If you turn a sturdy trash can upside down, you can use it as an improvised stool, or a table. It can’t get any simpler than that!

A galvanized steel trash can is ideal, but there are plenty of options made of plastic. You can find plenty on Amazon.

2 thoughts on “14 Clever Uses for Trash Cans”

  1. I have used one for outdoor bird feeder seeds. I used a plastic one and the squirrels chewed a hole in the lid so you need to use a metal one.

  2. Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed this post. Any ideas for using plastic trash can lids for anything? I have over 50 of them, roughly 20″ in diameter and 4″ deep. I work in a retail warehouse where lids and cans are sold as a package, but customers often only take the can. Seems a shame to just dispose of them. The only idea so far is an improvised snow sled for a child.

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