Quite a number of cleaners, paints, and
adhesives used in auto repair are packaged in aerosol spray cans. These cans are
thin-walled steel pressure vessels pressurized with one of several hydrocarbon
propellants, such as butane. When empty, the propellant and product are gone and
the cans are not considered hazardous wastes.
However, partially empty spray cans may be regulated as hazardous wastes because
they contain ignitable, or chlorinated solvents.
are expensive and have greater environmental consequences.
Ounce for ounce, spray-on product sold in aerosol cans is roughly twice
the cost of bulk product. You pay
for propellants in every aerosol can you purchase.
Most aerosol cans contain 10-15% propellant by weight.
Carbon dioxide, propane, and butane are
commonly used aerosol propellants. These
are “greenhouse gases” that contribute to global warming and smog formation.
Every year, individual auto repair and fleet maintenance facilities
discard hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of aerosol cans used to dispense
brake cleaners, carburetor cleaners, lubricants and penetrants, engine
degreasers, and numerous other products as trash, taking up valuable landfill
Pressurized cans present additional environmental concerns. If punctured,
contents may be released so forcefully that injuries could result. Extreme
temperatures may cause cans to rupture, and moisture may cause them to rust,
resulting in a release of the contents with potential to harm the air, water or
land. Pressurized cans sent to a landfill present safety concerns during
compacting, and fire hazard becomes more acute if container contents are vacated
using an aerosol-puncturing device for the purpose of disposal.
Some aerosol products such
as paints, solvents, pesticides are hazardous. Most aerosol cans pose a fire
hazard because they contain highly flammable propellants such as propane and
butane. Aerosol products must be used with adequate ventilation and/ or personal
protective equipment to prevent inhalation, employee exposure and potentially
harmful health effects. (Always check the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for
proper usage and follow the directions!)
US EPA and many states may consider used
aerosol cans that are not empty hazardous waste
Purchasing - Request
a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for all aerosol products. Occupational
Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations require products. (Hazard
information should also be provided in foreign languages for employees who may
not understand English.)
Storage - Inspect
all hazardous waste storage areas and document inspection results.
Shipping - Keep
shipping papers/ manifests for a minimum of three years to show waste has been
Disposal - Know
where waste is going. Request proof that the waste has been received and
disposed of or recycled properly. Keep records for a minimum of three years.
First, determine whether or not a material is even needed. Could the
entire process using the aerosol be eliminated? If required, choose a
non-hazardous product or the least hazardous product that will do the job (a
Material Safety Data Sheet — MSDS— is one resource that may be helpful). Use
only as much as is needed. Store aerosol products in a dry area not subject to
extreme temperatures. Follow label directions to clean the nozzle after use to
prevent clogging. Use up products before buying others. To apply paints, use a
brush instead of an aerosol, or consider electrostatic painting, when possible.
Shops and facilities that switch to refillable spray bottles are saving
money by avoiding the high cost of aerosol cans and are helping to protect the
environment by eliminating the solid and potentially hazardous waste stream they
There are two basic types of refillable spray bottles:
Refillable metal bottles more closely resemble aerosol cans in terms of their design and performance. These bottles are filled with product (for example, brake cleaner) from a bulk container and are pressurized with air at 80 to 200 pounds per square inch using a compressed-air hose. Plastic bottles are also filled from bulk containers but do not require compressed air. Instead, pumping a trigger to create a mist or stream of product operates them.
What to consider when selecting refillable spray bottles:
Capacity. The capacity of
air-pressurized, refillable spray bottles varies from 7 fluid ounces to 1 quart.
Smaller bottles are useful for spraying hard-to-reach areas. Larger bottles are
more convenient because they require less frequent filling and therefore less
Construction material. Refillable
spray bottles are available in different materials and with different finishes
(aluminum, stainless-steel, brass, and steel) for use with different types of
bulk product. Ask the spray bottle
manufacturer whether the bottle is compatible with the product you intend to
Nozzle type. 1-quart, refillable spray
bottles come with standard spray and stream nozzles. A nozzle that can be adjusted from stream to spray is also
available. Smaller bottles (16- and 8-fluid ounce) are available that closely
resemble the size and shape of aerosol cans and have a spray pattern similar to
an aerosol can spray.
Nozzle extensions. Nozzle
extensions up to 12 inches long are available for spraying areas that are
otherwise difficult or impossible to reach.
Cost. Air-pressurized, refillable
spray bottles cost from $25 to $60 each, depending on the construction material.
Chemically resistant plastic bottles and hand pumps cost from $1 to $6
each. Be sure to check with the product vendor about plastics that
are compatible with their chemical product.
Economy. Ounce for ounce, bulk
product is cheaper than aerosol cans. Most common spray-on products are
available in containers ranging in size from 1 to 55 gallons. You may be able to
obtain free refillable spray bottles from your vendor when you purchase their
Refillable spray bottles do work and can reduce costs-if they are used
correctly. Therefore, be sure to:
Avoid product losses due to spills during refilling. Use funnels and
pumps to minimize spills.
Keep replacement parts on hand. Small, inexpensive parts such as nozzle
seals, filler caps, valves, and nozzles may deteriorate with repeated use and
Refillable spray bottles will be used if they are as convenient for
workers as aerosol cans; therefore, provide every technician with a refillable
spray bottle for each type of frequently used aerosol product.
Water in the shop air lines may cause corrosion in some steel refillable
spray bottles. Ensure that your
shop air supply has a water removal device.
Under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), aerosol cans may be recycled if they have been emptied through normal use or punctured and drained to remove significant liquids. Some states such as California have more stringent regulations than RCRA. Be sure to investigate state regulations before recycling aerosol cans. Shops are responsible for properly managing any captured wastes recovered from puncturing and draining.
Although spray cans may be discarded in the trash, they are recyclable
due to the fact that the majority of the can is steel; in fact, the typical
spray can contains at least 25% recycled steel. A number of recyclers that
collect drained oil filters for recycling will also accept empty spray cans
along with the filters. The oil filters and spray cans are shredded and melted
down to make new steel.
Empty means the can contains no product and no pressure. Empty containers
are exempt from hazardous waste rules. They have no special storage, labeling or
disposal requirements. Recycle them, if possible, or send them to an incinerator
that will recover the metal. If you have a small number of empty
aerosol containers, they may be able to be mixed with your solid waste. Check
with your solid waste handler first.
First, try to return or exchange malfunctioning aerosols.
Malfunctioning aerosols returned to the supplier or manufacturer are considered
“product” - not “waste.”
Hazardous waste rules do not apply. You must follow applicable Department of
Transportation (DOT) requirements for transport. Non-empty aerosols that cannot
be returned or exchanged must usually be managed as a hazardous waste.
Regardless of the contents, most aerosols are hazardous because they are
ignitable (D001) due to the type of propellants used.
Waste aerosols whose contents (including propellants) are
non-hazardous have no hazardous waste storage requirements. Follow fire
protection requirements for product storage. Store hazardous waste aerosols in a
closed container marked with:
If you have only a few aerosol cans, you may mark them
individually as outlined above, and place them in a fire-safe storage cabinet.
You may designate a special cabinet for waste, or reserve and mark a special
section of your product cabinet for waste. If storing incompatible materials,
store them in separate containers (such as plastic dishpans) within the waste
storage area. Perform and document weekly inspections of the waste.
Non-empty aerosol cans, even though they have been determined
to be non-hazardous, have few disposal options. They generally cannot be sent to
a landfill or a solid waste incinerator. They will probably need to be managed
by a company specializing in hazardous and problem waste disposal.
Aerosol cans containing hazardous product or propellant
should be shipped to a hazardous waste facility for proper disposal.
Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generators (CESQGs) have the additional
option of taking waste aerosol cans to a CESQG collection site.
Companies that regularly have significant numbers of similar
waste aerosols may be interested in using an aerosol-puncturing device. (Use of
a puncturing device does not require a waste-treatment permit at this time.) If
you choose to use one, here are some precautions to keep in mind: