Don’t just smash ‘em and stash them in the recycling bin. Instead, repurpose aluminum cans into creative crafted items.

iStockphoto.com/Marcelo Wain

You probably feel a twinge of eco-guilt every time you have to throw away an aluminum can. Aluminum recycling is notable for its efficiency. Recycling one can saves about 95 percent of the energy that would be used in producing a new can [source: City of Newton].

Next time, hang onto that can. You might not have to send it back to the factory to repurpose it. Just explore the startlingly beautiful world of recycled aluminum can crafts.

Aluminum is lightweight, heat-resistant and flexible. Whether it's polished to a shine or scuffed to a distressed finish, it has a luminous, silvery beauty. Thrifty crafters take advantage of these qualities to make jewelry, household decorations and more.

You don't need much to get started in recycled aluminum can crafts. You'll need a strong pair of craft scissors. You may also want to have a sharp-pointed craft knife. Since the cut edges of aluminum are sharp, you should have a pair of safety gloves -- gardening gloves will probably work. You'll also need a sanding block and sandpaper, so that you can dull those edges.

If you decide to paint your aluminum can projects, you'll run into a challenge: Untreated aluminum doesn't hold paint well. Use sandpaper first to roughen the surface. A spray-on primer for metal can help you fix the problem. A beautiful -- but more involved -- approach uses a thin coat of bitumen, spray paint and turpentine for color and texture [source: Reef]. Once you've prepped the surface, almost any acrylic paint will do.

Before you start any project, wash out the can in hot, sudsy water to get rid of any lingering traces of what was in it before. You don't want your new home decorations to attract bugs.

In this article, we'll look at a few ways to turn that most disposable of objects -- the beverage can -- into a lasting source of beauty. We'll start with a simple first project: the holiday ornament.