Despite being “empty,” many aerosol cans are hazardous waste because they’re still pressurized. Whether facilities know this or not, a majority of aerosol cans are still sent to municipal landfills with other non-hazardous waste.
United States manufacturing and automotive facilities alone use more than 1.6 billion aerosol cans annually, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These cans often contain products such as brake cleaners, degreasers, lubricants and paint.
One aerosol can doesn’t take up much space, but 1.6 billion cans would require acres of landfill space. Consider the following before purchasing another aerosol can:
- Avoid having expired product by purchasing aerosol cans based on demand
- Properly store aerosol cans away from moisture, sunlight and extreme heat or cold
- Use a can’s entire contents
- Recycle punctured aerosol cans with scrap metal or in a separate program
- Return defective cans containing hazardous product or propellant to the manufacturer instead of disposing of the unused product
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In general, aerosol cans are capable of holding either compressed gas or liquid. According to the EPA, depressurized cans are exempt from hazardous waste regulations and can be sent for scrap metal recycling [40 CFR 261.6(a)(3)(ii)].
An aerosol can recycler safely punctures aerosol cans, collects the can’s residual contents and filters out volatile organic compound emissions so aerosol cans can then be recycled as scrap metal.
Reduce Aerosol Can Usage
Another effective way to ensure hazardous aerosol cans don’t end up in the wrong place is not to use them. The EPA developed the WasteWise program to reduce and eventually eliminate industrial waste, such as aerosol cans. As part of the program, the EPA suggests:
- Using refillable containers that use compressed air as the propellant. Both plastic and metal cans are available.
- Replacing aerosol cans with portable wash units when possible. For example, portable brake wash systems are equipped with a cleaning brush, a solvent reservoir and a washbasin that drains back into the reservoir.
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Not all companies can get away from using aerosol cans, especially ones in the manufacturing and automotive industries. Properly disposing of the cans, however, will save landfill space and reduce hazardous waste.