Aerosol spray cans are pressurised containers for products ranging from shaving cream, hairspray and olive oil, to household cleaners, pesticides and spray paint. Most aerosol cans are steel, which makes them valuable for recycling. However, due to their pressurised contents, recycling aerosol cans can be more difficult and dangerous than recycling food cans or other metals.
- Skill level:
Collect your used aerosol cans. Check to see if the cans are completely empty. Separate partially full spray cans from empty ones, and set them aside. Cans that are not empty are still pressurised, and require different recycling methods (see Step 4).
Remove the plastic lid from the spray can. Normally, you do not have to remove the spray knob to recycle an empty aerosol can, but rules vary by state and region; check with your local recycling authority to make sure.
Call your local kerbside recycling program to find out if they take empty aerosol cans. Some kerbside programs will not accept these cans, or will accept them only if they contained innocuous products like whipped cream or cooking oil. If your kerbside program accepts empty aerosol cans, dispose of them in your kerbside recycling bin. If they don't accept aerosol cans, or don't accept certain aerosol products, consult local recycling centres and household hazardous waste facilities.
Bring partially full aerosol cans, and cans that contained hazardous materials like paints and insecticides, to your local household hazardous waste facility or recycling centre. Some recyclers will not accept partially full spray cans because of the leftover material, but most of them have specialised equipment that safely punctures the cans and disposes of any remaining product. Hazardous aerosol products should always go to household hazardous waste facilities, whether the can is empty or partially full.
Tips and warnings
- Never try to puncture steel cans without the proper equipment and training.
- Never throw aerosol cans into a trash fire or incinerator, as they may explode.
- Do not dispose of aerosol cans illegally, as doing so may injure workers or damage waste management equipment.
- Store cans away from direct sources of heat to prevent them from exploding. You should also keep them in a dry place to prevent rusting.
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- Earth911.com: Tips for Recycling Aerosol Cans
- North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources: Aerosol Can Puncturing, Crushing, and Recycling
- American Coatings Association: Recycling Paint And Aerosol Containers
- Delaware Division of Air & Waste Management: Guidance for Managing Used Aerosol Cans Generated by Commercial Entities