Old rusty propane tanks on patio

Propane gas. You can use it to heat your house, grill up a weekend barbeque, or light a camp stove. Like a lot of other items in and around our homes, propane tanks require special care when it’s time to dispose of them.

The Problem

Propane gas is compressed into liquid form and housed in tanks of various sizes. Propane grill tanks weighing 20 pounds are the most common size. You’ve seen them stacked around someone’s outdoor grill — perhaps your own. At some point, those tanks will need to be disposed of responsibly.

Propane tank disposal presents one teensy problem. There may be flammable gas left inside an “empty” tank. That leftover gas renders propane tanks hazardous. Hazardous waste is defined by the EPA as “leftover household products that can catch fire, react, or explode under certain circumstances.”

This means you cannot throw your tanks in the trash (or recycling bin) when you’re are through with them. Doing so could harm the people collecting your trash.

So, what the heck do you do when it’s time to get rid of them?

Never fear — you have options.

Grill with rusted propane tank
One of the best ways to minimize waste from propane tanks is to take care of them so they can be reused. If this grill tank had been covered, it might not have rusted.

Propane Tanks Are Designed for Reuse

Have you heard of those businesses where you can use the same container over and over again? Brands as large as Tropicana and Crest have created reusable and refillable packaging to cut down on single-use packaging waste. It looks like they may have taken a tip from propane sellers.

Propane grill tanks were designed from the get-go to be refillable.

This is how it works for a propane grill tank.

  • Buy a propane tank filled with gas from your local hardware, grocery, or drug store. The cost will include a deposit on the tank.
  • When your tank appears empty, disconnect it from your grill. (Be sure the gas is shut off.)
  • Bring the tank — remember it’s not fully emptied so use caution — to a retailer that accepts returns. Many retailers, such as Blue Rhino, will accept any brand of propane tank for reuse or recycling when you purchase one of theirs.
  • When you present your old tank, the deposit will be deducted from the purchase of a new tank.

You may not even have to exchange your tank. Hardware stores often refill tanks on the premises. Be aware that tanks need to be in reasonably good shape — without a lot of rust or dents — to be eligible for a refill. That’s a closed-loop system, as long as your tanks stay in good shape.

How To Dispose of Propane Grill Tanks

Propane grill tanks all have a date stamped on them. In most cases, the tank is good for 12 years after that date. After that, it may be possible for a licensed propane dealer to recertify the tank. Unfortunately, recertifying a tank costs roughly $30 or $40, so many people opt to buy a new one.

Remember propane tanks cannot go in curbside recycling. But they can be brought back to various retailers for recycling. Hardware stores are a good bet. There may be a fee or retailers may offer tank recycling as part of a sale. Another option is to use the AmeriGas search tool to find a local propane retailer that accepts tanks for recycling. You can also search the Earth911 Recycling Database for a recycling solution near you — just enter your ZIP code.

Gas canister attached to camp stove
If you didn’t buy a refillable propane canister for your camp stove, take the empty tank to your local household hazardous waste site for safe disposal.

How to Dispose of Camp Stove Cylinders

Depending on local and state regulations, you may be able to refill small, one-pound propane cylinders from your grill tank. To do this, you need an adapter. If you have any doubt that you can refill your cylinder safely, don’t try it. Safer options are available.

There is debate on whether empty cylinders can be thrown in the trash. Some sources say that you can run the tank out by attaching it to an appliance until it’s empty. Others say never to do this on your own, as you also have to puncture the cylinder to depressurize it.

A safer and much more sustainable alternative is to bring your empty camp stove gas cylinders to a household hazardous waste (HHW) collection site. They’re the experts. They can drain the gas out and recycle the container for scrap. To find a collection site near you, enter your ZIP code in Earth911’s Recycling Database and search for HHW.

backyard propane tank
With proper maintenance, your household propane tanks should last for years.

How Long Do Household Propane Tanks Last?

Propane tanks that are used to heat homes can run up to 500 pounds. Like an oil burner, they need to be serviced yearly. With proper maintenance, these tanks can last up to 30 years. Some scrap yards will buy or sell (empty) propane tanks for other uses. Tanks can be used in construction, as an art canvas, a meat smoker, and more.

Keep Your Tanks in Good Shape

One of the best ways to minimize waste from propane tanks is to take care of the ones you already have. Cover up grill tanks to prevent rust. Use care when carrying portable tanks so they don’t get dented. Get your household tank serviced regularly. Take care of the stuff you own, and you’ll be helping take care of the planet.

By Mary McDonald

Mary McDonald is a freelance writer based in Central Massachusetts. After working as a teacher for many years, she now writes about mental health, wellness, and the environment. You can find her on LinkedIn.