The Aerosol Can Debate Continues

Research and Markets released its 2009 Report on Aerosol Hair Spray. The study, available for purchase, details the world’s outlook on aerosol spray cans in more than 2,000 cities.

On the heels of this report, we thought we’d give a refresher on the current state of aerosols, highlighting the progress that has been made and what lies ahead.

It is important to note that aerosols are not only a man-made substance. In fact, about three quarters of all aerosol in the environment occurs naturally through volcanic eruptions, smoke from forest fires, soil and rock debris and sea salt.


More than 3 billion steel aerosol cans are made in the U.S. annually. Theoretically, if everyone recycled these containers, there would be enough extra steel to manufacture about 400,000 automobiles. Photo:

In general, aerosols are collections of small particles suspended in gas. Most recognizable is the pressurized spray can, containing everything from hair spray to whipped cream to enamel paints.

The discovery of the ozone hole in 1985 over Antarctica sparked the strengthening of the Montreal Protocol, which restricted the industrial production of chlorinated and brominated compounds, as well as the more commonly know chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) emitted from aerosol spray cans.

According to the EPA, CFCs were officially banned from aerosol cans in 1978. While airborne CFCs are no longer an issue, aerosol cans still have hazardous characteristics, making them hard to recycle.

According to Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, “due to the flammability [of aerosol cans], these gases can cause fires and explosions if they are sprayed or are released unintentionally due to puncture or damage to the can, or if the contents are exposed to an open flame, pilot light, spark or static electricity.”

Make sure your aerosol can is completely empty for disposal to avoid hazardous accidents. However, avoiding the use of aerosols can make a big impact. Some options for consumers include:

  • Buying non-pressurized hairsprays
  • Substituting spray paints with eco-friendly paints
  • Purchasing cleaning products in non-aerosol varieties
  • Using whipped cream from a tub as opposed to the pressurized canister

If you do have aerosols cans and want to recycle them, check with your curbside program or local recycler as many locations accept empty cans.

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  1. Aerosol cans have NOT contained CFC propellants since 1978. The industry has switched to other propellant systems so there is no connection with the use of aerosols and the depletion of the ozone layer,

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