Empty aerosol cans can be recycled, often (but not always), as part of your household collection. This includes the many everyday household items that use aerosol cans – shaving creams, whipped creams, hairsprays, and more.
However, if they are left with liquid inside, they will count as hazardous material, so you must empty them first. This is because the recycling process requires the metal cans to be crushed, and if the can has some liquid left inside under pressure, it could explode when pierced.
Where to Dispose of Your Aerosol Cans
It’s easy to recycle aerosol cans. Typically, your aerosol cans can either be put in your weekly recycling collection (not the trash) or accepted at a nearby recycling center – but you’ll need to research which one first!
Once you’ve found where it goes, disposing of your aerosol cans is a simple as emptying them as much as possible (hold the button and spray until nothing else comes out) and then either dropping them off or putting them in the recycling bin to be picked up.
Why Is Throwing Away Aerosol Cans Bad for the Environment?
Aerosol cans are pretty simple, and most, if not all the parts, can be recycled. By failing to recycle your aerosol cans, you risk plastic and hydrocarbons, such as propane or butane, being leaked into the environment.
Additionally, since the materials used are so recyclable (the metal can be used again and again), throwing these away necessitates that little bit more that needs to be dug up, instead of coming from recycled sources. Finally, a partially-full aerosol can is a health hazard because it may explode when heated or pierced.
What are Aerosol Cans Made of?
The main container is made of metal, normally either steel or aluminum. When steel is used, it is given a tin coating (this is called tinplate steel) to prevent rusting and prevent the can from reacting to the liquid placed in it. These metals are all recyclable and infinitely reusable.
Aside from the metal body, there’s also the plastic valve, which enables the liquid inside to be released. Inside there’s a spring and tubing mechanism that’s responsible for controlling the outflow of the contents. These parts require sorting to be recycled.
Additionally, there’s also two substances inside – the liquid product (such as cream, or paint) and a propellant, which takes the form of a pressurized gas (this is used to force the desired product out). At the point of recycling the liquid product should have been used up, but the gas remains – so they’re never truly empty. Typically this is propane or butane, which is why aerosols are always labelled as flammable. These can also be recycled, although it depends upon the recycling process used as to whether this happens.
Before the 2000’s, most companies used chlorofluorocarbons as propellants – which has been proven to deplete the ozone layer. Today, propellants with less ozone depletion properties are used, but even these are still harmful to the environment.
How Are Aerosol Cans Recycled?
The cans are punctured, and any remaining liquid propellant removed (and hopefully recycled). The steel and aluminum are separated using magnets, which will pick up the steel but leave the aluminum, and then the cans are crushed and made into bales ready for recycling into new products.
Should You Stop Using Aerosols Cans?
While aerosols no longer use the damaging CFC’s, they’re still not great for the environment. While recycling is possible, many aren’t recycled, and the cost of creating and recycling them does add to our carbon footprint. While stopping usage entirely isn’t easy, many products that come in cans can be replaced with non-aerosol equivalents – this includes deodorant, cream, and even hairspray.