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Are Aerosol Cans Recyclable? How Do You Properly Dispose of Them?

Aerosol Paint spray cans

Aerosol cans can contain anything from deodorant to oil or paint. They are typically made from aluminum or steel and are effectively useless once empty. However, even when empty, they can be dangerous if mishandled, and because they are made of metal, they should be recycled rather than thrown into general waste. However, how you recycle an aerosol can will depend on whether it is empty or still has some liquid or gas inside, and what the can originally contained.

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How to Dispose of Aerosol Cans in 8 Steps

Below are eight tips on how to properly dispose of aerosol cans, ensuring their safe disposal and that the materials will be properly recycled.

1. Check That It’s Empty

How to safely dispose of aerosol cans will primarily depend on whether the can is empty or not. If nothing comes out when you press the nozzle, shake the can. If it sounds empty and the nozzle isn’t blocked, it is empty.

2. Empty the Can if Possible

two paint spray cans
Image By: motointermedia, Pixabay

If you can hear any liquid sloshing around when you shake the can, it means it isn’t empty. If possible, empty the can safely by spraying the contents. If this isn’t possible, you will have to treat the can differently and may need to find an alternative means of disposal.

3. Take Partial Cans to a Hazardous Waste Center

If there is anything left in the can, you may need to take it to a hazardous waste center where they can safely dispose of the contents and ensure the can is recycled properly. There are hazardous waste centers in most areas, and you can find them online or possibly by contacting your local authority.

4. Check the Can for Instructions

Not all aerosols can be recycled easily. Those that contain hazardous materials like oil or paint may also need to go to the hazardous waste center. The center will ensure that any remaining contents are disposed of properly and prevent harmful chemicals and potential toxins from getting into the local environment.

5. Do Not Tamper With the Can

Spay Cans
Image Credit: Felix Lichtenfeld, Pixabay

If a can is only partially empty and you can’t get rid of the contents using the normal method, do not be tempted to try bursting the can or removing the nozzle to empty it. Aerosols are pressurized containers, and they can explode if they are tampered with in this way.

6. Remove the Plastic Lid

Most aerosols have a plastic lid. The lid can be recycled with your other plastic recycling so remove it and put it with the rest of your plastic recycling.

7. Put Empty Aerosols with Metal Recycling

If there are no specific disposal instructions on the can, you should be able to recycle it with the rest of your metal recycling. Aluminum and steel can both be recycled, and most aerosols are made using one of these materials.

8. Sell Your Scrap Metal

Some recycling centers will pay for scrap metal. While you might not be able to sell a single aerosol can, you can collect them until you have a bag full of old cans and then make a few dollars by scrapping them.

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Are Aerosols Environmentally Friendly?

Aerosols are generally considered bad for the environment. They release Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) which destroy the ozone layer and poor disposal of the cans is also hazardous to the local environment.

How Long Does It Take for an Aerosol to Decompose?

How long it takes an aerosol can to decompose depends on the material it is made of. Aluminum takes 100 years to even start breaking down and can take several hundred years to decompose completely. Even steel takes 50 years to decompose fully.

Aerosol cans that are not properly recycled could sit in a landfill for up to 200 years before they break down and decompose completely.

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Aerosol cans are commonplace in a lot of homes, and while they are convenient, they are also bad for the environment, especially if they are not disposed of properly and carefully.

Follow any instructions on the can itself and take special care with those that contain hazardous material. Do not attempt to burst or empty the can in any way other than safely depressing the nozzle and, as long as there are no special instructions, put the empty cans in with your general metal recycling.

Featured Image Credit: Susanne Jutzeler, Schweiz, Pixabay


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