How to Recycle Aerosol Cans

Aerosol cans are used to store everything from food to bathroom products to paint. While the can itself has the same value as other metal cans, the pressurized air inside and potentially hazardous contents make recycling a bit more complicated.

Aerosol Can Recycling Preparation

  1. Do your best to use up all the product inside. If the can still has product inside, even if it’s nonhazardous product like whipped cream, your recycling program will not accept it. The easiest way to make sure it’s empty is to shake the can and listen for liquid inside, or spray until nothing comes out.
  2. Most aerosol cans come with a plastic cap, which should be removed and recycled separately. Visit our recycling guide on plastic caps for more information.
  3. DO NOT puncture a hole in the can to remove any remaining product, as the can will explode and hurt you. You should also not attempt to remove the spray nozzle on top of the can.
  4. Verify whether your community accepts aerosol cans with other metal cans, or whether they are classified as household hazardous waste (HHW). There are separate disposal options for each.

Why Recycle Aerosol Cans

  • Aerosol cans are made of either aluminum or steel, both of which are high-value metals that can be infinitely recycled into new metal products
  • The recycling process involves safely puncturing the can, but if thrown in the garbage, the can could explode when crushed in a landfill

Find Recycling Guides for Other Materials

Frequent Aerosol Can Recycling Questions

This will vary based on your local program. Many bigger cities accept empty aerosol cans because they have the technology to safely crush the cans, but you’ll definitely want to verify acceptance. If the can is full, you’ll need to dispose of it as household hazardous waste.

No. Empty aerosol cans are not considered HHW, according to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). It doesn’t matter if the original content was food, sunscreen or a hazardous material like paints or pesticides.

Once upon a time, aerosol cans were linked to depleting the ozone layer because they contained chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), but these were phased out in 1978. They do still emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that contribute to smog. If this concerns you, you can find aerosol alternatives for any products currently on the market.

If your city collects aerosol cans for recycling, its material recovery facility has special equipment to puncture the cans and remove/properly dispose of remaining liquids. Once the can is punctured, a magnet will separate the aluminum cans from the steel cans (steel is magnetic, aluminum is not), and they are then crushed and baled before being sent to a recycler. If cans are collected for HHW, they will often end up in a swap shop where people can take them for reuse. If unclaimed, the material is processed and incinerated by professionals.

In California and Colorado, aerosol cans are classified as universal waste, which reduces regulations and increases collection opportunities for this material. This means they are also banned from landfills and must be recycled.

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Do some spray painting recently? Find out where to recycle aerosol cans in your area.