Watch These Recycled Cans Morph Into Furniture

Can City is a mobile foundry fashioning merchandise out of melted aluminum.

After the aluminum is heated, it's poured into an ad hoc mold. (Photo: Studio Swine/Vimeo)

Jan 5, 2014· 1 MIN READ
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

Brazil is ranked as a world leader when it comes to aluminum can recycling, though for its catadores—the independent pickers who collect those cans from city streets—making a living from the work isn't easy. But a project in São Paulo could give them another stream of revenue—by turning some of their collected aluminum cans into sellable merchandise.

Can City is a mobile foundry operating on the streets of São Paulo. Free waste cooking oil, collected from local cafés, powers a furnace that melts the cans. The liquefied aluminum is poured into molds to create products that can be sold.

The project was started by Studio Swine, a U.K.-based design firm that focuses on sustainability, an attitude that can be seen in the other materials the Can City foundry uses. Not only are the aluminum and oil recycled products, but the molds themselves are made ad hoc, on the street using found materials, including sand from nearby construction sites.

Alex Groves, a designer from Studio Swine, explained to FastCoExist, "We wanted to tap into this existing street culture—to turn a public space into a manufacturing line."

Bringing manufacturing and craftsmanship back to a local level is a key element of the project. According to the studio's website, "Can City explores the possibility of industry returning to our cities, using free metal and free fuel to produce an endless range of individually crafted aluminum items adaptable to customizations."

Molds can be created to fashion an array of products, from jewelry and souvenirs to architectural elements like roof brackets.

Currently the designers have one foundry running at a catadore collection point in São Paulo, but there are plans to build more and train more catadores to use them.

Studio Swine is becoming known for this type of work. TreeHugger reports that the designers are also responsible for the award-winning Sea Chair concept—furniture made from the plastic sea waste collected by fishers.

Making use of what's readily available is a critical component of a sustainable future. Even if Can City isn't applied on a larger scale, it can still serve as an example of what's possible when items typically viewed as garbage are reimagined as valuable resources.