Q. Are aerosol cans considered to be a D003 simply because they are pressurized?
A. When it comes to waste identification, it is the responsibility of the generator to make a waste determination based on all aspects of the material (40 CFR 262.11). RCRA programs in some authorized states simplify your waste classification process and declare that each and every aerosol can with contents under pressure is a D003 (reactivity characteristic) hazardous waste. So always check your State regulations to see how your specific state regulates these wastes.
Whether or not your State program insists that aerosol cans are D003 wastes, since aerosol cans can contain a variety of chemicals, they can also bear any number of other waste codes. The generator must consider the contents of the can, both the propellant and the propelled substance, and if any of those chemicals are listed (40 CFR 261, Subpart D) or exhibit a characteristic (40 CFR 261, Subpart C), then the aerosol can is that kind of hazardous waste.
Here are some things to consider when managing aerosol cans that might make your life easier:
- Household hazardous wastes, including aerosol cans, are excluded from regulation as hazardous material. As this exclusion applies at the point of generation, in the household, it would continue to apply to aerosol cans collected by most municipal recycling programs. [40 CFR 261.4(b)(1)]
- If you recycle the metal portion of an aerosol can, it is excluded from hazardous waste regulation as “scrap metal.” [40 CFR 261.4(a)(13), 40 CFR 261.6(a)(3)(ii)]
If you use up all the contents of an aerosol can so that “the pressure in the container approaches atmospheric,” then it is an “empty container” and any residues of chemicals that do remain are no longer regulated as hazardous waste. [40 CFR 261.7(b)(2)]
But if pressure remains in the can even if you are done using it, how can you render it “empty”?
In some jurisdictions, you may puncture an aerosol can (using specialized equipment to capture the contained gas and other chemicals) in order to relieve the pressure and neutralize the reactivity characteristic and then recycle the remnants. Changing the physical character of the waste to make it more amendable for recycling is technically waste treatment and may trigger notification, permitting, or other requirements set by your State waste management authority or other regulatory agencies. After puncturing, the can itself can be recycled as scrap metal, and any vapors, liquids, powders, or other materials remaining must be evaluated as potentially hazardous waste and managed accordingly.