Globally, people love the convenience of a deodorant spray, hair spray, whipped cream, hair spray, and air freshener, among many other products. As a result, we can find aerosol spray cans in many homes, in the kitchen, bedroom, and living room.
This form of packaging has become popular as it makes it easy for people to complete certain tasks quickly. For example, shaving cream cans make it easy to dispense a frothy foam perfect for lathering. While whipped cream cans enable the user to top a cake or dessert easily without whipping the cream by hand.
Amidst the many benefits, an area of concern for many people is how to dispose of their empty cans properly. In this article, we'll examine whether you can recycle aerosol cans.
Aerosol cans are self-dispensing systems containing substances in pressurized canisters, usually metal cans. Using a metering or continuous valve, the user can dispense the product formulation, usually a foam, fine mist, or spray.
Aerosol cans are popular, and you can find their use in a range of everyday household products. Various sectors such as the personal care, automotive, and healthcare industries use them.
Due to growing demand from these sectors, led mainly by convenience, the aerosol can market continues to grow. Projections predict that the market size will likely reach 12.2 billion USD by 20262.
Additionally, the personal care market constitutes the largest market share in the end-use segment. This is because many of the population use products like hair sprays, deodorant sprays, shaving foams, and more.
Manufacturers create the main body of aerosol cans using either aluminum or steel. The steel cans usually come with a thin layer of tin. Producers also sometimes create the containers by combining two or three metals.
However, most aerosol cans in the market are aluminum cans3. The reasons for this are many. On the one hand, the material has attractive properties such as its recyclable, lightweight, and shatterproof qualities. On the other hand, aluminum cans preserve their contents for extended periods.
Apart from the primary container, an aerosol can also often consists of a plastic spray nozzle and plastic cap. There are pressurized substances that you can dispense as mist or foam within the can.
As a conscious consumer looking to create less waste, recycling becomes one of the key modes of disposal. If you're wondering if you can recycle your used aerosol can, then the answer is yes.
Instead of throwing your empty aerosol cans in the trash, you can dispose of them in the recycling bin. Alternatively, you can look up a local program in your area that accepts these spray products for recycling.
The primary hitch in recycling aerosol cans is their contents, preventing facilities from processing them or causing a hazard. For this reason, it's important to ensure you've emptied your containers before sending them off to a recycling program. You can recycle aerosol cans, whether made from aluminum or steel materials.
The pressurized contents of aerosol cans can prove hazardous in certain conditions, such as when heated. As such, when pressurized liquid or gas remains in the aerosol container, it may prove hazardous waste. Further, some aerosols may contain hazardous chemicals you need to treat appropriately, such as spray cans.
However, to prevent such hazardous waste from causing further damage to the environment, you can take preventative steps. One of the most important steps is to ensure the can is completely empty before sending it to a recycling facility. Below, you'll find tips to ensure you're recycling your used products properly.
The first step, and probably most important, is to find out if your local recycling facilities accept aerosol containers. This step will prevent you from throwing your used product into the wrong bin, which can contaminate the other materials.
Apart from this step, also find out if the recycling facilities classify aerosol as household hazardous waste or HHW. Some facilities may accept aerosol cans with other metal cans, while others classify them as hazardous material - HHW. Having this knowledge will allow you to know the correct disposal option.
Before sending an aerosol can off to be recycled, ensure it's empty. If the can contains any remaining product, this could contaminate other materials at the material recovery facility. Also, non-empty cans can prove dangerous as the substances can explode.
Avoid piercing or crushing the container to remove the remaining contents. This can be hazardous as they can explode and hurt you.
Most aerosol containers come with plastic lids. For this reason, ensure you remove the lid before including your empty can in the recycling bin. Depending on your city's guidelines, you can recycle the lid or cap separately when disposing of aerosol cans.
Traditional aerosol spray cans contain chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), ozone-depleting chemicals affecting the ozone layer. However, due to growing concerns about environmental degradation, the Environmental Protection Agency and Clean Air Act in the U.S. set regulations that checked the use of CFCs in goods. Most countries banned the use of CFCs around the 1980s.
Although many may believe this development makes aerosol sprays environmentally friendly, these products still affect the environment.
Scientists point out that these sprays still emit volatile organic compounds1, also known as VOCs. When the spray reacts with the can, this often contributes to the emissions of VOCs. These compounds contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone. Also, VOCs play a significant role in asthma-inducing smog.
We still find aerosols considered hazardous waste in households or industries for these reasons. Even after you've emptied your can, the container can still serve as hazardous waste to the environment should it not end up recycled.
The good news is that the industry can achieve "near-zero" emissions by switching petroleum gas-based propellents with clean air variants such as nitrogen. Of course, manual pump sprays work well, too, and avoid the need for pressurized gases in metal containers - the best of which for sustainability are refillable.
And of course, metals required for production in the first place require resource-intensive mining, and recycling uses energy that can be saved by going for zero-waste packaging.
Therefore, the best thing for the environment is to avoid single-use packaging. For alternative choices to aerosols in everyday use, check out our guides to zero-waste shaving, deodorants, makeup, and cleaning. You'll find a range of options for lathering up, keeping fresh all day, looking good and natural cleaners that avoid using resource-intensive single-use packaging.
In 2019 the Environmental Protection Agency added aerosol cans to the universal waste rule to help streamline the regulations required for the production and use of aerosol cans. The change in classification is designed to encourage recycling and reduce processing and disposal costs.
Whereas the change means little for consumers if you're a larger user, such as in industry or business, the change means you can send them off to a universal waste handler and into the recycling system. Partially full aerosol cans can be punctured, residual liquids drained on-site, and the empty cans are recycled as scrap metal.
Sending your aerosol containers to be recycled prevents them from ending up in landfills.
The main danger should discarded aerosols end up in landfills is that they can explode when crushed. Various cities have their guidelines regarding the disposal of aerosol cans in curbside recycling programs. However, on a large scale, many cities will accept these products. When recycled, we can turn old cans into new products such as car and bike parts and new cans.
However, aerosol cans, on the whole present a range of environmental ills, from the metals used in production to the polluting impacts of their contents.
Amir Nourian, Muhammad Kabir Abba, Ghasem G. Nasr, Measurements and analysis of non-methane VOC (NMVOC) emissions from major domestic aerosol sprays at “source”,
Business Wire. (2021, May 24). $12.2 Billion Aerosol Cans Market by Material, Product Type, End-use Sector
Markets and Markets. (2021, May). Aerosol Cans Market
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.