Management of Aerosol Cans for Businesses and Industries

Hazardous or Nonhazardous

At the time of disposal, any aerosol can containing hazardous chemicals that would be a listed or characteristic hazardous waste is a hazardous waste container. If the can is empty, that is, it contains no propellant or product and is at atmospheric pressure*, the can will not be regulated as hazardous waste and may be recycled as scrap metal or landfilled. (*Atmospheric pressure can be reached by discharging all propellant or puncturing the can. Puncturing the can is not a regulated treatment activity under RCRA, as long as all contents are collected.)

To Help Prevent Pollution . . .

Instead of aerosol cans, use refillable containers that use compressed air as the propellant. Both plastic and metal (brass, aluminum, and stainless steel) cans are available. Use nonhazardous, nontoxic products that will not degrade or otherwise affect the container material. The plastic containers can be pressurized by hand or with an air compressor. The metal containers require an air compressor for pressurization. Refillable containers cost $5 to $65 according to type, size, nozzle requirements, etc. Two distributors of refillable aerosol cans are listed below.

Replace aerosol cans with portable wash units when possible. For example, portable brake wash systems are equipped with a cleaning brush, a solvent reservoir, and a wash basin that drains back into the reservoir. Approximate cost is $500 to $900.

Purchase aerosol cans according to demand so that the product's shelf life does not expire.

Properly store aerosol cans away from moisture, sunlight, and extreme heat or cold.

Use entire contents of aerosol can including the propellant.

Purchase products that do not contain chlorofluorocarbons or hazardous chemicals.

Recycle aerosol cans with scrap metal, if possible, or in a separate program. Haulers may require cans to be punctured, drained, and/or flattened. Residuals collected from puncturing or draining aerosol cans may be considered hazardous waste. Contact the NC Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance (DPPEA) or the Steel Recycling Institute at (804) 744-7408 for information on vendors of aerosol can recycling equipment or aerosol can recyclers.

Return defective cans containing hazardous product or propellant to the manufacturer or dispose as hazardous waste.

The Wrong Things To Do . . .

Do not discard into the dumpster any aerosol cans that still contain product or propellant that would be a listed or characteristic hazardous waste.

Do not dispose aerosol cans without determining if they are hazardous waste.

Applicable Laws

40 CFR Part 261.7, codified at 15A NCAC 13A .0006.

An aerosol can that did/does contain hazardous constituents that would be a listed or characteristic hazardous waste is subject to RCRA regulations unless the can is considered empty. If the container held a hazardous waste that is a compressed gas, the container is empty when the pressure in the container approaches atmospheric pressure ((40 CFR Part 261.7 9b)(2)). If the container is being recycled or discarded and meets the definition of an empty container, the container will not be regulated as a hazardous waste.

It is the responsibility of the generator to determine if an aerosol can is hazardous. If the aerosol can did/does not contain any hazardous constituents that would be a listed or characteristic hazardous waste, the can is not regulated as hazardous waste, regardless of whether or not it is empty. Empty aerosol cans can be recycled with scrap metal. Contact the NC DPPEA or the Steel Recycling Institute at (804) 744-7408 for a list of aerosol can recyclers.

Refillable Aerosol Can Vendors


Type of container


Milwaukee Sprayer Manufacturing Company, Inc.
Milwaukee, WI

Brass, aluminum, stainless steel containers


Stark & Associates
Charlotte, NC

Plastic containers


For information on vendor services, contact DPPEA.

For More Information . . .

This Fact Sheet is only an overview and may not contain detailed information suitable to your situation. Should you need further assistance, please call one of these offices.

Hazardous Waste Section, Raleigh (919) 733-2178

Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance (DPPEA), Raleigh (919) 715-6500

The North Carolina Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance provides free, non-regulatory technical assistance and education on methods to eliminate, reduce, or recycle wastes before they become pollutants or require disposal. Call DPPEA at (919) 715-6500 or 800-763-0136 or e-mail us for assistance with issues in this Fact Sheet or any of your waste reduction concerns.
OWR-97-31. March 1997.