Since their invention in the 1920s, aerosol cans have taken up an integral role in the lives of consumers and businesses throughout the world. They’ve grown in popularity thanks to their accessibility and ease of use, and are now used to disperse countless different products ranging from paints and finishes to cleaners and pesticides.
While their usefulness has earned them an important role in numerous industries and homes, the potential dangers associated with them have earned them special treatment from governing bodies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). We have prepared a guide to aerosol can disposal so that you can ensure that your business’s aerosol can disposal system is safe, cost-effective, and compliant.
Are Empty Aerosol Cans Dangerous?
Even empty aerosol cans present potential dangers to those in their proximity. This is because while an "empty" aerosol can is emptied of its product, it is not emptied of its propellant. Many aerosol cans use a liquid gas such as butane or propane to provide the pressure needed to propel the product from the can in the form of an aerosol. When the last of the product has been dispersed, the propellant remains inside of the pressurized can.
While liquid gases like butane and propane are excellent at providing consistent pressure to disperse aerosols, they are also flammable and pose a danger to those who handle or store them. For this reason, even an empty aerosol can that might have held a non-hazardous product can still pose a danger when mishandled. The only way to ensure that an aerosol can is truly emptied is by puncturing and draining it.
Aerosol Cans Are Ruled Universal Waste by the EPA
In December 2019, the EPA ruled that aerosol cans are to be classified as universal waste in order to encourage safe handling and recycling on the part of the countless businesses who use them on a daily basis.
In order to be ruled as universal waste, the EPA first had to confirm that aerosol cans meet each of the eight defining criteria for universal waste. Due to the wide variety of applications and products stored in aerosol cans, there are some exclusions from the universal waste program, including aerosol cans that
1) are not yet waste,
2) are not hazardous waste, or
3) meet the standard for empty containers.
The new ruling allows businesses to accumulate waste aerosol cans on site for up to a year as long as they are marked or labeled as aerosol can universal waste.
Businesses now have the option to either dispose of pressurized aerosol cans through a universal waste handler, or they can puncture, drain, and recycle the cans themselves, which in many cases, is the more cost-effective solution.
EPA Requirements for the Disposal of Aerosol Cans as Universal Waste
There are requirements for the safe puncturing and draining of aerosol cans given by the EPA, and businesses who choose to recycle their aerosol cans in-house will need to ensure that they meet the requirements outlined below.
1. Puncturing and draining must be conducted using a device specifically designed to safely puncture aerosol cans and contain residual contents and air emissions.
2. Handlers are required to develop a written procedure detailing how to puncture and drain aerosol cans safely. Handlers must have a copy of the puncturing device manufacturer’s instructions onsite and ensure that any employees operating the device are trained in the proper procedures.
3. Handlers must have a written procedure for cleaning up spills or leaks of the contents of the aerosol cans. A spill cleanup kit must be provided, and spills or leaks must be cleaned up promptly.
4. Puncturing must be performed in a manner designed to prevent fires and releases into the environment.
5. Contents from the punctured aerosol can must be immediately transferred to a container or tank that meets the EPA’s requirements.
6. Contents should be segregated into separate collection drums according to chemical compatibility.
7. Handlers must determine if the contents from the emptied aerosol cans are hazardous waste. Any hazardous waste generated from puncturing the cans is subject to all applicable RCRA regulations, and the handler is considered the generator of the hazardous waste.
How to Empty Aerosol Cans
For the safe disposal of pressurized aerosol cans, we recommend the Aerosolv® Aerosol Can Recycling Systems. The Aerosolv systems meet EPA requirements for the safe disposal of aerosol cans. It provides users with an efficient and cost-effective means to empty their aerosol cans, leaving them with ready-to-recycle scrap metal.
Justrite Aerosolv aerosol can puncturing systems will help you comply with 40 CFR § 273.13 (e)(4) for Small Quantity Handlers and 273.33 (e)(4) for Large Quantity Handlers to safely puncture and drain aerosol cans.
Installation and operation of the Aerosolv recycling system is easy. The steps for use of the Aerosolv360® are briefly outlined below:
- Attach puncturing/draining unit to a compatible 30 or 55-gallon liquid collection drum.
- Attach the Aerosolv filter to the collection drum.
- Attach the anti-static ground wire to any nearby confirmed ground source.
- Ensure that the aerosol can you will be emptying is compatible with any contents currently already in the waste collection drum.
- Remove cap and nozzle from the aerosol can.
- Insert aerosol can nozzle-end down into the Aerosolv housing.
- Rotate the activation wheel, which will seal the housing that holds the can and then puncture the can, expelling propellant gas and liquid elements.
- Once contents have been fully discharged, rotate the activation wheel in the opposite direction and remove the can from the Aerosolv housing.
- Recycle the emptied steel or aluminum aerosol cans.
- Dispose of collected aerosol can contents according to EPA regulations. Planned recycling of the aerosol’s residual content may be an option too.
The instructions noted above are intended as an informational guide only and are not to be used as comprehensive instructions in the use of the Aerosolv recycling system. For comprehensive safety and operation instructions, view the Aerosolv 360 Manual.
The regulations outlined above are intended as a guide only and do not serve as a substitute for a comprehensive understanding of universal waste regulations as well as other relevant guidelines for the disposal of empty and full aerosol containers.