Recycling Mystery: Fire Extinguishers

home fire extinguisher lying on side
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For the few times that you need a fire extinguisher, you’ll want to make sure it functions properly. But you may not know that fire extinguishers have an expiration date. Or, maybe you’ve used your extinguisher but haven’t replaced it yet. So, how do you make sure you’re prepared for a fire and what do you do with that expired or used fire extinguisher?

First, it’s helpful to know that there are different types of fire extinguishers designed for different types of fires. Most consumer fire extinguishers are capable of putting out Class A, B, and C fires (wood, gas, and electrical, respectively). If your extinguisher is for a commercial kitchen or lab, the disposal process is the same, but the options will be more limited because you’ll be classified as a business.

Reuse Your Fire Extinguisher

Luckily, your fire extinguisher is made of highly recyclable materials, like aluminum for the tank and steel for the valve. But before we get into recycling, let’s review when you need to recharge your extinguisher.

  1. Loss of pressure: Over time, fire extinguishers lose their pressure. That’s why they have a gauge that shows the ideal pressure. If the pressure is too low, contact your local fire department and ask if it can be recharged. They might be able to recharge it at no cost or refer you to a professional for servicing.
  2. After each use: If you use your extinguisher just once, you need to have it recharged. Some extinguishers can be manually refilled, but without training this can be dangerous. You should use a trained professional to make sure your extinguisher is safe and gets recharged with the correct extinguishing agent. Your local fire department may be able to refer you to a professional.

If the professionals don’t recommend recharging your extinguisher, you’ll need to purchase a new one to replace it.

Disposal Options

So, you found out that your extinguisher can’t be recharged — maybe it’s too old or has damaged parts. How do you safely dispose of it?

Whatever you do, don’t put your fire extinguisher in your curbside recycling bin with other metal cans, especially if the extinguisher has not been completely emptied. The pressurized container is explosive, which means it could cause injury to the drivers when material is compacted in the truck, or damage machinery in the material recovery facility.

Your best bet is to contact your local household hazardous waste (HHW) program, as many of these programs will accept pressurized metal containers like aerosol cans and propane tanks. If you are disposing of a commercial fire extinguisher, you’ll likely have to pay for disposal.

If you live in a big city, you may have a permanent facility where you can drop off HHW year-round. In other cases, HHW might be collected a few times per year at cleanup or recycling events. These events are a great opportunity to get rid of other HHW like batteries, paint, and cleaning products (basically anything in your garage).

If your community does not collect HHW, or you can’t wait for an upcoming event, you’ll need to depressurize the extinguisher before it can be recycled as scrap metal. This is yet another job where it’s advisable to visit the local fire department or a fire extinguisher professional. Once the extinguisher is depressurized, you can unscrew the head and take the metal can to a scrap metal facility.

Looking for a facility in your area that will accept your old fire extinguisher? Enter your zip code in Earth911 Recycling Search for a nearby recycler.

 

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Trey Granger

Trey Granger

Trey Granger is a former senior waste stream analyst for Earth911.
Trey Granger

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