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A quick introduction to aerosol can recycling and disposal

REMONDIS Integrated and Managed Services // 1 June 2020


Australians purchase over 260 million aerosol cans every year


It’s estimated only 30% of all aluminium aerosol cans are recycled


Aerosol are made from steel or aluminium which can be repeatedly recycled


Incentives to recycle

Using recycled steel and aluminium to manufacture aerosol cans uses only 5-25% of the energy required to make one steel or aluminium can from virgin materials. Underutilised aerosol can recycling in Australia misses energy reduction opportunities. That’s two powerful incentives to recycle.

How are aerosol cans recycled?

  • Aerosol cans are typically taken to a Material Recovery Facility (MRF) where steel and aluminium cans are separated by magnets
  • Cans are pressed into bales and transported to processing plants
  • They are melted down and remanufactured into steel and aluminium stock to make new aerosol cans and other products

Disposing of aerosol cans

  • Aerosol cans sometimes contain substances that are highly flammable and can explode under pressure if not disposed of correctly
  • If the aerosol can isn’t empty it’s classified as hazardous waste
  • Aerosol cans contain flammable propellant gasses, usually propane and or butane. When crushed in compactor trucks or on tipping floors the steel and aluminium cans can spark and cause a fireball
  • When a hot load is detected in a waste truck, the standard procedure is to dump contents in the nearest safe location, typically on the side of the road. This is an enormous clean up job and poses a health risk to both workers and nearby residents

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)

In the early 1970’s, U.S. scientists started to express concerns that man-made CFCs were responsible for an apparent thinning of the Ozone Layer. The aerosol industry begun phasing out its use of man-made CFCs and shifted to non-ozone-depleting natural hydrocarbons.

There are now severe penalties for those who sell, manufacture or import aerosols containing made CFCs unless they have a special exemption.

According to the CSIRO, the propellants now used in the majority of aerosols have a negligible greenhouse effect.

When disposing of aerosol cans, consider

  • Ensure they are completely empty before recycling as scrap metal  
  • Do not pierce, crush or flatten aerosol cans
  • Remove lid and any plastic parts that come off easily
  • If the can still has contents, let REMONDIS know so that we can arrange specialised disposal

Emptying aerosol cans

The obvious method for emptying aerosol cans is to press the nozzle and release the remaining contents until the can is empty. However, this method is not accepted by some regulators, as this releases trace elements of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere... not to mention the individual health risk if correct Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) isn’t worn.

There are specialised units that collect residual fluids, allow for safe can recycling and filter leftover propellant.

What can you do?

  • Remind your team members that aerosol cans are recyclable when emptied
  • Avoid emptying aerosol cans manually so that you don’t release trace elements into the atmosphere
  • Remove the lid and any other plastic bits before placing aerosol cans in the recycling bin
  • Get in touch if you need specialised aerosol bins or de-gassing units

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