Typically, if the aerosol can contains either a listed or characteristic hazardous waste, then its contents, and possibly the can itself, will be subject to the hazardous waste rules if it is being disposed of. However, some states allow aerosol cans to be managed under their universal waste regulations rather than under their hazardous waste regulations. Some aerosol cans may qualify as scrap metal that can be recycled. You should contact your state agency to find out how your state regulates aerosol cans.
Federal Requirements for Aerosol Can Disposal
Here are a few points derived in part from federal regulations that many states have incorporated into their rules for aerosol cans:
- Aerosol cans from households are not a regulated hazardous waste. Since the regulatory status of a waste is determined at the point of generation (the household), the waste remains nonhazardous once it comes into the possession of the local waste collection department.
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- To dispose of a can as nonhazardous waste, a generator would have to ensure that the can is empty (either through use or by puncturing and emptying), or that the product it contained was not hazardous, and that the can itself is not hazardous (i.e., does not meet the reactivity or explosiveness characteristic). EPA’s definition of an empty container under 40 CFR 261.7 applies to aerosol cans. Specifically, an aerosol can is “RCRA empty” if:
- All wastes have been removed that can be removed using practices commonly employed to remove materials from that type of container (e.g., pouring, pumping, and aspirating).
- The container is less than or equal to 119 gallons in size and no more than 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) of residue remain on the bottom of the container or inner liner, or no more than 3 percent by weight of the total capacity of the container remains in the container or inner liner.
- The pressure in the container approaches atmospheric for cans that held a hazardous waste that is a compressed gas.
- For aerosol cans that held an acute hazardous waste, the container has been triple-rinsed using a solvent capable of removing the commercial chemical product or cleaned by another method that achieves equivalent removal. If the can contained a liner that prevented contact of the substance with the can, the can is empty when the liner has been removed. Since triple-rinsing and removing the liner are impractical for aerosol cans, disposal as a hazardous waste may be the only feasible option.
- A steel aerosol can that does not contain significant liquid would meet the definition of scrap metal and, if it is to be recycled, would be exempt from regulation. In this case, the can would not have to be empty. However, to dispose of the can as a nonhazardous waste, the can must be empty. Hazardous waste removed from the can is subject to hazardous waste regulations regardless of whether the can is recycled or disposed of.
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- Managers must determine whether the contents in a clogged or off-specification can (i.e., cans that contain significant amounts of liquid) are a hazardous waste. Some states will allow you to dispose of a specified number of nonempty aerosol cans containing hazardous waste per month without being subject to hazardous waste regulations. However, most landfill and incinerator operators will not accept nonempty aerosol cans even if the liquid is nonhazardous. Arrangements may need to be made with a waste disposal company.
- If you intend to puncture, shred, or crush an aerosol can, you may be required to use equipment designed for emptying aerosol cans, which prevent releases of hazardous air pollutants. If the activity is part of recycling, it is not considered treatment and not subject to hazardous waste regulations. But if you intend to dispose of the cans, you may be subject to hazardous waste treatment regulations.
Contact your state solid waste office or the EPA regional office to learn the applicable requirements for aerosol can disposal.
Aerosol Can Phase-Out
Based on these and other regulatory concerns about aerosol cans, some regulatory agencies suggest that businesses phase out their use of these devices and replace them with reusable spray bottles.
See tomorrow’s Advisor for some help with training your workers on aerosol can safety.