Americans have become quite adept at making use of their aerosol containers. Loosening a chain on a bike, keeping foods from sticking to pans and touching up paint are just a few of the ways that we put aerosols to use in our homes. Yet, when it comes to end-of-life disposal of the container, many consumers fall deficient on reaching the true potential of steel aerosol containers.
Fact is, steel aerosol containers are every bit as recyclable as the steel food cans millions of consumers routinely put in their recycling bins. Yet, many steel aerosol containers are not finding their way to the recycling bins. In some cases, this is because of dated misconceptions, but in a large number of cases, it’s just a simple disconnect about the package’s recyclability.
According to Greg Crawford, Executive Director of the Steel Recycling Institute, it’s as simple as picking up a new habit. “Many aerosol products aren’t in the kitchen where a lot of household recyclables are generated from, they’re in the bathroom or other side of the house, it creates a little bit of a disconnect.”
To help bridge that disconnect, many steel aerosol cans now have a “please recycle when empty” logo to help consumers learn how to properly recycle them. But, local recycling programs, looking to maximize the diversion of recyclables from landfills also need to better inform consumers that steel aerosol containers are easily recyclable once empty through normal use.
According to the Steel Recycling Institute’s National Recycling Database, there are over 15,000 locations that accept steel cans but only a third of those actively publicizes their approval of aerosol cans. The truth is, the process of separating steel cans from other materials often ends up including aerosols, too, whether they state it or not.
When materials in curbside recycling bins are picked up and taken away, the first thing that happens is they go to a material recovery facility (MRF). At the MRF, recyclables are loaded on a sorting line. Aerosols, like all steel products, are magnetically attracted. Virtually all MRF’s have magnetic belts which they use to automatically separate steel recyclables. This magnetic belt pulls the steel products out of the line and directs them into a different bin. When aerosol cans are included, they are picked up right along with food steel cans and baled together to go off to the steel mill for recycling. Because of this, aerosols may be added to the publicized list of accepted materials very easily without additional steps from community programs.
Virtually all processing mills already have aerosol cans in the mix, whether they’re formally included or not; they show up because consumers are putting them in curbside or drop-off bins. There are many more products that are appropriately labeled now, as they present themselves in the curbside or drop-off collection boxes they are in the stream and not called out or rejected, they move on.
Some program managers for curbside or drop-off programs are uncertain as to whether steel aerosol should be included with other steel cans; the fear is they may not be entirely empty.
“By way of formal testing by the Steel Recycling Institute,” explained Crawford, “we’ve determined that the steel aerosol cans sourced from households are statistically not just empty but very empty. The reason they’re empty is because people don’t buy them to throw away full cans, they use the product to its last ‘breath’. The efficacy of aerosols as a package is excellent since virtually all of the product stays fresh and usable until the contents are finally exhausted. ”
“The main thing about recycling an aerosol can properly is to use the product up,” continued Crawford. “If you’re not going to use all that’s in can, give it to a neighbor who can use it. Or ultimately, if you have a damaged one that is a new can, you may take it back to the place you bought it for replacement. In the case of old cans, say, with a sticky nozzle, most communities have an annual or monthly special waste collection day. The full or partially full cans can go to that activity for appropriate treatment.”
Too many aerosol cans are taking up landfill space while valuable steel is not being recycled and reused as efficiently as it could be. “Remember, just because the program may not have formally allowed them, that doesn’t mean they’re not getting recycled,” Crawford concluded. “So, it’s up to the resident to realize that the empty steel aerosol cans should be recycled just like any other steel can and get to the right place. The Steel Recycling Institute is pleased to help communities add empty steel aerosol cans to the mix of recyclables diverted from solid waste for recycling.”
For questions related to the recycling of your steel aerosol cans, contact the Steel Recycling Institute via its website at http://recycle-steel.org.