How To Dispose Of Aerosol Cans

What to do when you’ve finished with an old aerosol can?

Many of us deal with these spray cans daily, but when we’ve used up the last of the product, where exactly should your old aerosol container go?

How To Dispose Of Aerosol Cans

Impossible to completely clean and with a plastic nozzle that can’t be removed, you might assume the aerosol won’t be accepted by your local recycling program.

However, an aerosol container can be recycled, you just have to do it the right way. Read this guide for everything you need to know about recycling aerosol cans. 

How To Dispose Of Aerosol Cans

Ensure The Can Is Completely Empty

An empty aerosol can will typically be recyclable. But if there’s any liquid or substance left inside the can, it needs to go into hazardous waste.

This is because aerosol cans are pressurized, and can potentially explode when crushed or pierced.

If a pressurized can ended up in recycling, the sorters won’t know to be careful around it and could end up seriously injured.

To double-check your can is empty, simply spray until nothing is coming out. Hold the nozzle against a rag or cloth, and spray until you’re sure there’s nothing left.

Give the can a good shake and listen for anything moving inside. If the can is quiet, and nothing’s spraying out, you’re good to go.

Remove Plastic Lids

Aerosol cans are typically made with either tin or aluminum, both materials which can be recycled. However, most aerosol cans also come with plastic attachments.

These might be lids, caps, or straws. So, before disposing of your aerosol can, make sure to remove the caps or lids.

Before you throw the lid in the trash, check to see if it’s made of a plastic that can be recycled. Many of these caps are made from number 5 plastic, otherwise known as polypropylene.

This can’t always be put into household recycling, but might be accepted by a nearby recycling facility.

DON’T Remove Plastic Nozzles

If you’ve tried to recycle aerosol cans before, you might have struggled to remove the plastic nozzle, before giving it up and throwing the whole thing in the trash.

The good news is you shouldn’t remove the nozzle to recycle an aerosol can.

Aerosol cans are pressurized in order to create the spray effect they’re known for. While the pressure is necessary for the can to work, it’s also what makes aerosols dangerous.

If an aerosol can becomes depressurized, it’s at risk of combusting. Removing the nozzle can damage the can, making it more likely to burst open.

Instead, just let the nozzle stay where it is, and dispose of the can in the recycling.

DON’T Pierce Or Puncture The Can

Regular recyclers will understand the importance of ensuring materials are completely clean before recycling. But things are a little different when it comes to aerosol cans.

Wipe any residue off the outside, but don’t attempt to clean the inside.

Again, this is because an aerosol can is pressurized.

Although you might not think twice before cutting open a plastic container to give it a thorough clean, this should never be done with an aerosol.

Puncturing the can could cause it to explode.

Once you’ve removed the lid, sprayed the contents away, and wiped down the outside, just leave the can as it is.

Check It’s Going Into The Right Trash Can

Hazardous waste, recycling, or the trash — which is best for your aerosol can? The answer to this really depends on where you live.

How To Dispose Of Aerosol Cans

While some areas will accept aerosol cans with curbside recycling, others will only allow the can to go in hazardous waste collection sites.

An aerosol can needs to be correctly depressurized, which not every recycling facility has the equipment for. Check before you recycle.

How Do I Dispose Of A Full Or Partially Full Aerosol Can?

Sometimes your aerosol just won’t spray anymore. It might be that the nozzle is blocked up, or has fallen off entirely, or some other reason that’s preventing you from emptying the can.

If this happens, the only thing to do is to put the aerosol can into household hazard waste.

You may need to dispose of it via a recycling program or other organization if your curbside collection doesn’t accept hazardous waste. 

Does What’s Inside An Aerosol Can Make A Difference To How You Dispose Of It?

What’s inside your aerosol can doesn’t make any difference to how you recycle it — especially as it shouldn’t be inside there anymore!

If it’s full, the aerosol can will need to go into household hazardous waste. And if the can is empty, it should be recycled.

This is true whether it’s full of whipped cream, or empty of cleaning solvent.

Can Aerosol Cans Be Recycled?

Aerosol cans are typically made of tin or aluminum, which are both recyclable materials. Most aerosol cans are suitable for curbside recycling, provided they’re completely empty. 

While the materials used to construct an aerosol are recyclable, the larger issue is with the structure of the can itself.

Aerosols contain both the substance you want to spray, and a pressurized gas.

When you press the nozzle, the pressurized gas forces the liquid through the opening, creating the aerosol mist.

The gas is pretty powerful, something you might have noticed if you’ve ever sprayed a deodorant too close to your skin.

Because of this pressurized gas, an aerosol can is classed as a hazard. If the aerosol is damaged, the change in pressure can cause an explosion.

And in an industrial recycling facility, there’s plenty of opportunity for an unnoticed can to become damaged.

So, while the materials are recyclable, the can itself presents more of a problem.

It has to be completely empty before being recycled, and even then, not all recycling centers have the equipment needed.

Be sure to empty the can, and check your local recycling before disposal.

Final Thoughts

Aerosol cans are confusing for even the most avid recycler.

Make certain the container is completely empty, and check your local rules before putting the aerosol either with curbside recycling or into hazardous household waste. 

Jenna Bates
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