Many personnel in the EHS field are frequently asked if aerosol cans can be punctured and emptied prior to disposal, and the answer to this question has changed several times over the past three decades. The answer is not always clear, plus requirements vary state-by-state.
In 2018, the Unites States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) proposed a draft rule for public comment to broaden the definition of Universal Waste to include all full, or partially filled, aerosol cans. While it may become a final rule in the future, it is not currently in effect.
Currently, in New Jersey, if the aerosol can contains a propellent with a material other than an oil-based finish, then it must be managed as Hazardous Waste. Examples could be a spray lubricant or a spray contact cleaner or degreaser. Once the lubricant or contact cleaner spray can is deemed a waste, then it must be managed as Hazardous Waste. Under this scenario, the NJDEP considers puncturing the lubricant or contact cleaner spray can as "treatment" of Hazardous Waste so it is not permitted outside of a Treatment, Storage, and Disposal (TSD) facility. Conversely, if the aerosol can contains an oil-based finish (including oil-based paints, lacquers, stains), then the can must be managed as Universal Waste where puncturing is still not permitted outside of a TSD facility.
A Hazardous Waste determination must be made at the point that a material becomes a waste. The outcome of this determination will influence the waste management options that exist. If an aerosol can becomes empty through normal use and contains less than 3% by weight of the can's capacity, then it is considered empty under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and is no longer regulated as Hazardous Waste. In this case, it may be punctured and the steel can could be recycled. It should be noted that 3% by weight of the total capacity for most aerosol cans is a relatively small amount given the can’s small size. A 12-ounce can must contain less than 0.36 ounces combined of liquid and propellant in order to meet the definition of empty.
When assessing the proper waste management method, three Hazardous Waste exemptions should also be considered. For facilities that manufacture aerosol cans of products, if the liquid chemical could be reworked through placement in another container or if it could be added to another chemical batch, then the can is not solid waste and therefore it cannot be Hazardous Waste. In this scenario, the material would be considered work-in-process where puncturing is permitted.
A second exemption applies to materials that contain ethanol or specialty denatured alcohol. Specifically, if a material contains more than 24% ethanol, then the material is exempt from the Hazardous Waste management rules provided the material is sent to a reclamation facility permitted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). In this case, it is acceptable to puncture cans, capture the resulting liquid into a drum or tote, accumulate the material and when full, send off-site for reclamation under this RCRA exemption. Once the steel aerosol can contained less than 3% by weight of the total capacity, then the container could be recycled as scrap metal.
A third exemption applies if the chemical could be used by an outside entity as a raw material under the Hazardous Secondary Material (HSM) rules. Commercial solvents have value in this manner and the HSM rules enable this. Many Baron Environmental clients utilize HSM exemptions for not only aerosol cans, but also other materials that would otherwise be regulated as Hazardous Waste. Prior to generating HSM, facilities are required to file a new or revised Form 8700-12 to EPA. While in the HSM program, an additional 8700-12 must be filed each even numbered year prior to March 1st. If a facility is a large quantity generator (LQG), then the supplemental HSM form can be added to the required biennial Hazardous Waste report to fulfill the biennial HSM filing requirement. As in the ethanol exemption, the HSM can be captured in drums or totes, and empty steel cans can be sent for recycling.
For site-specific questions on waste generation and cost-effective options that should be considered, contact anyone on the Baron team. We can provide a specific waste stream review, a solid waste assessment, or an alternate, customized scope of work.