How To Dispose Of Spray Paint Cans – Can You Recycle?

Spray paint can be a cheap and easy way to freshen up your decor or furniture, but what happens when the can runs out? It’s more important than ever to be eco-conscious with our waste, so look no further to learn how to dispose of spray paint cans safely and responsibly. 

The quick answer is yes, you should be able to recycle your aerosol spray paint cans, but there are important guidelines to follow.  

With 3.5 billion aerosol cans made in the US every year, learning how to dispose of them properly is essential, especially if you’re using lots of spray paint for your latest DIY project. As they are aerosols, spray paint cans contain pressurized air.  

Along with the chemicals used to create the paint inside, this makes them potential safety and environmental hazards. Heat, pressure, or the puncturing of the can could cause spray paint cans to explode.  

This risks the lives of garbage disposal workers, landfill and recycling plant workers, and damage to machinery and the environment. This isn't a hypothetical risk - fires have been started in recycling plants caused by aerosol cans that were wrongly disposed of. 

Your first instinct may be that spray paint cans couldn't possibly be recyclable due to their chemical contents and pressurized air. This is not true - at least 60% of Americans should be able to recycle spray paint cans and other aerosols, with another 20% able to recycle through drop-off schemes.  

As most aerosol cans are made of aluminum or steel, they can, in fact, be recycled in many places. Check the rules of your local recycling program and the materials they take before disposing of your aerosol cans. Despite how widely they can be recycled, only about 30% of aerosol cans are taken to recycling centers. 

Due to the pressurized contents and the volatile materials used to make aerosols, the EPA considers many aerosols hazardous waste. The chemicals inside the can are also potentially dangerous and could be ignitable, corrosive, reactive, or toxic. Some places may have a household hazardous waste program that will take aerosols, including spray paint cans.  

Suppose you are putting your aerosol in your normal household garbage or recycling. In that case, the most important rule is never to put aerosols in the trash or recycling if they aren't completely empty. If even a small residue remains inside, the spray paint can could explode. Aerosol cans, including spray paint cans, should never be placed in the trash as this is bad for the environment. 

spray paint cans

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) has decreed that punctured and emptied aerosol cans aren’t considered hazardous waste. When punctured, all the contents of the can are removed, and the risk of explosions or chemical leakage is prevented. However, attempting to puncture your spray paint cans at home is incredibly dangerous. Do not ever attempt to puncture your aerosol cans yourself. 

 Businesses may have access to proper machineries, such as an aerosol recycling system that connects a puncturing unit to a large steel drum, allowing the can to be punctured safely and the contents drained without issue.  

Following this, the cans can then be recycled. Your local household hazardous waste program may have access to these kinds of machines. Check the recycling guidelines for your local area before throwing away any used spray paint cans. 

spray paint cans

How To Dispose Of Spray Paint Cans Properly 

Safety is essential when dealing with potentially hazardous chemicals and gaseous propellants that make the aerosol can sprayable.  

Never attempt to crush, puncture, or flatten a spray paint can at home. This may risk your health and safety. Government regulations cover the safe depressurization of aerosols and how to handle the chemicals and potential air pollutants inside.  

Leave the puncturing to recycle plant workers or the household hazardous waste program. However, there are some steps you can take to make spray paint cans as safe as possible before putting them in the recycling bin. 

  • 1
    When dealing with aerosols, work in a well-ventilated area such as outdoors or an open garage. If you must work indoors, open all windows and doors and wear protective breathing gear if necessary.
  • 2
    Shake the can to determine how full or empty it may be. If you no longer need a can that is still considerably full, try donating it to a local school or art group.
  • 3
    Make sure the can is as empty as possible by holding a rag or other waste material up to the nozzle and pressing it until the can stops making a hissing sound and no other residue comes out. Then, shake and press again to catch as much residue as possible.
  • 4
    Remove the plastic cap as this can usually be recycled but must be separated. Do not remove the nozzle. This may also be plastic but is too small for recycling sorters. Removing it may also depressurize the can, which could lead to explosions.
  • 5
    Check your local recycling rules and either deposit the now-empty can in the correct recycling bin or take it to your local recycling program or household hazardous waste program. Apps such as The Recycle Coach can easily help you follow your local recycling rules. 
How to Dispose of Spray Paint Cans

FAQs 

Why should an aerosol container be completely emptied before it is discarded?  

If the can is not emptied, the pressurized air may cause it to explode when exposed to heat or pressure. Any remaining chemicals could also pose a hazard or harm the environment.  


How can you tell if a spray paint can is empty?  

If a spray paint can is empty, it should make no hissing noise when the nozzle is pressed. Follow the guidelines above to empty your spray paint can. However, a small amount may still be left inside, so if in doubt, dispose of your cans with your local household hazardous waste program. 


Should you leave the spray paint cap on when recycling?  

You should remove the plastic cap on a spray paint can as they will be recycled separately. Many spray paint caps should be made of a plastic that is widely recycled. Do not attempt to remove the nozzle. 


Conclusion

Spray paint producers such as Rust-Oleum are doing their part by making their aerosol cans from recyclable materials. By following your local regulations, disposing of your spray paint cans is as easy as they are to use for painting! 


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