Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Recycling Aerosol: Just Another Steel Can

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

Monday, January 3, 2011

Rapid City Helping Raise Recycling Rates

Anybody who knows anything about steel will immediately remind you that it is North America’s Most Recycled Resource. Perhaps the most amazing part of that fact is that we can do better.

One way that the 83% recycling rate of steel is getting boosted is through manual landfill separation. When residents forget to responsibly dispose of their steel products, this can be another fail-safe to help minimize the lost product. Solid Waste Operations of Rapid City, South Dakota is looking to make a difference.

“The attempt to collect scrap steel from the landfill face has only been going on for the past three years,” says Karl Merbach, the Superintendent of Solid Waste Operations. “It was not until this year that we have been able to have a dedicated employee on the landfill operating face. This has only been possible through the use of a dedicated person supplied by the South Dakota Department of Corrections.”

Because of this dedicated person they were able to increase the amount of time spent on separating recycling from previous years of only about 20-30 hours per week to presently approximately 45-50.

“It was frustrating for staff to see the amount of steel being dumped just in our regular municipal solid waste and construction and demolition debris,” says Merbach. “For the past 6-7 years we have had a separate location for residential and small business customers to drop off their scrap metal at our material recovery facility at no charge. However, there was still a significant volume of scrap metal going to the landfill.”

The amount of shredder steel scrap that has been recovered has increased dramatically from it’s beginning in 2005, when 422 tons were recycled. Through only nine months this year, 631 tons have been recycled. With an onsite bailer, the processing of steel scrap for sale is a simple part of the process.

Most people around the country have multiple methods of recycling steel but many choose not to properly dispose of their steel cans, aerosol cans, or scrap steel. The infrastructure and processes are there but the responsibility falls mostly upon residents.

“[It] is very easy to drop off their scrap materials in Rapid City,” says Merbach. “Many are still throwing metals in residential and commercial trash containers. Education is a key to this process.”

The more residents are aware of their options, the more successful they can be at properly disposing their steel which will benefit all of us.