Can You Recycle Empty Spray Paint Cans? (Find Out Now!)

Jessica Vaillancourt
by Jessica Vaillancourt

If you like to use spray paint for your DIY home projects, you probably have empty spray cans to dispose of. But you might be unsure what to do with them after they’re used up. Should you recycle these? Or should you just throw them in the trash? Let’s explore the answer to this question.

You can usually recycle empty spray paint cans. Spray cans are made of metals that can be recycled by a hazardous waste or recycling program accepting aerosol cans. Before recycling a spray paint can, make sure you use up the contents and recycle the cap separately. Then drop it off at your local recycling or household hazardous waste facility.

What are Spray Paint Cans Made Of?

Spray paint cans are also known as aerosol cans, which contain paint. These metal cans have pressurized air which allows the liquid contents to spray out as a fine mist for even distribution.

Many different products come in aerosol cans, such as hairspray, paint, shaving cream, deodorizers, cleaners, and many more. Aerosol cans contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), making these highly pressurized cans flammable and reactive.

Aerosol cans themselves are usually made of two types of metals: aluminum, or lacquered tinplate. Aluminum material is generally used for more expensive, high quality items. Lacquered tinplate, which is steel with a thin layer of tin, is most common. Both aluminum and lacquered steel are recyclable.

Spray paint cans also have a plastic cap. This plastic cap should be recycled separately from the can, and can go right into your regular recycling bin.

Can Spray Paint Cans Go in Curbside Recycling?

To be safe, you should generally not place spray paint cans into your curbside recycling bin. Mixing in highly pressurized cans with your regular recycling can be dangerous to the recycling facility workers and equipment.

During the recycling process, balers and other machines may attempt to flatten the spray can. If the can is not properly depressurized when this happens, there is a risk of explosion. It is safer to contact your local recycling company and find out if they have a scrap metal recycling program. You may need to drop off the spray paint can at the facility separately.

If your local recycling company does not take spray paint cans, find out if there is a household hazardous waste program in your area. These programs accept aerosol cans, because of their volatile and potentially dangerous nature. Hazardous waste programs can properly depressurize and break down the cans. You are not expected or recommended to attempt depressurization yourself at home.

How to Get Rid of Empty Spray Paint Cans

Now that you know what empty spray paint cans are made of, you can properly dispose of them. Follow these steps to safely get rid of your aerosol cans.

Step One: Determine if Local Recycling Facility Accepts Aerosol Cans

Before you can deal with recycling your empty spray paint can, you’ll need to figure out whether your local recycling center accepts aerosol cans. Because aerosol cans are filled with chemicals and pressurized air, the center may accept them via a separate dropoff. They may also recommend a household hazardous waste program. Either way, know where your empty spray paint cans are going first. It’s also an option to simply toss your can in the trash.

Step Two: Completely Empty Spray Paint Can

Now that you’ve determined where you can recycle your spray paint can, you must make sure it’s completely empty. Emptying the can fully before recycling prevents contamination in the recycling process. This is especially important when the can contains hazardous chemicals, like paints.

You can tell if there is any product inside by shaking it. If you hear any sloshing noises, you still have paint to use up. You can use the rest for any home or art projects. But if you need to get rid of the can ASAP, take a cardboard box outside and spray out any remaining contents onto the box. This is a convenient way to get rid of any remaining paint and recycle the cardboard box.

Step Three: Remove Plastic Cap, Leave the Nozzle Untouched

Once you’ve expelled the remaining product, it’s time to remove the plastic cap from the can. This plastic cap is recyclable. Place it in your curbside recycling bin with all your other regular recyclable items.

While you should remove the plastic cap, DO NOT remove the nozzle. Also do not attempt to puncture or depressurize the aerosol can yourself. This can be very dangerous, and should be left to the professionals at scrap metal recycling facilities.

Step Four: Drop Off at Recycling Center or Hazardous Waste Program

Hopefully by now, you know whether you can recycle your spray paint cans at a recycling center or a household hazardous waste program. Household hazardous waste programs host collection events for common hazardous waste types found in homes. These products are either flammable, toxic, corrosive, or reactive. Common hazardous waste materials include aerosols, anti-freeze, paints, fertilizers, and poisons.

Once you’ve identified your dropoff location and separately recycled the plastic cap, it’s time to bring your empty spray paint cans for collection. Many recycling centers have scrap metal programs you can drop them off at. They are trained to safely depressurize the can, remove the nozzle, and extract the aluminum or steel for later repurposing.

If you are unsuccessful at finding a local recycling program that accepts aerosol cans, you may have to throw them in the trash. But contact your local trash collection company and find out if they recommend that you separately dispose of them as hazardous waste instead.

Related Questions

Why do aerosol cans explode if heated?

Aerosol cans are highly pressurized. When heat warms the can, the gases inside expand. The pressure will eventually reach its limit, causing the can to explode.

Where should aerosol cans be stored?

Aerosol cans should be stored in a dry, cool place. Avoid placing them in extreme heat or direct sunlight. Also, make sure they are not at risk of freezing. Exposing aerosols to extreme temperatures can increase a risk of explosion or fire. 

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Jessica Vaillancourt
Jessica Vaillancourt

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