EPA Proposes to Add Spent Aerosol Cans to Universal Wastes

Rule Summary

EPA is proposing to add hazardous waste aerosol cans to those “universal wastes” regulated under title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), part 273. This change in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regulations, once finalized, will reduce regulatory costs of a wide variety of establishments generating and managing aerosol cans, including the retail sector, by providing a clear, practical system for handling discarded aerosol cans.

If approved, States with approved RCRA programs would need to made revisions to State rules.

Four states, California, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico, already have universal waste aerosol can programs in place, and two more states, Ohio and Minnesota, have proposed to add aerosol cans to their universal waste regulations.

EPA intends the rule to be limited to sealed containers whose intended use is to dispense a material by means of a propellant or compressed gas.  Other types of containers, including compressed gas canisters and propane cylinders, present a greater risk than aerosol cans and would not be included.

EPA specifically excludes aerosol cans that have been emptied of their contents (both propellant and product). Once the contents of a universal waste aerosol can have been removed, the emptied can is considered a new point of generation and is subject to a hazardous waste determination. An aerosol can that meets the definition of empty container is not subject to hazardous waste regulation, and may be recycled as scrap metal.

The proposed rule also excludes aerosol cans that show evidence of leakage, spillage, or damage that could cause leakage under reasonably foreseeable conditions. Through this exclusion, EPA intends that hazardous waste aerosol cans that are not intact continue to be subject to the full hazardous waste standards.

The streamlined Universal Waste regulations are expected to:

  • Ease regulatory burdens on retail stores and others that discard aerosol cans,
  • Promote the collection and recycling of aerosol cans, and
  • Encourage the development of municipal and commercial programs to reduce the quantity of these wastes going to municipal solid waste landfills or combustors.

The Pre-Publication Notice is available for viewing here.

Current Regulations

Aerosol cans frequently contain flammable propellants such as propane or butane which can cause the aerosol can to demonstrate the hazardous characteristic for ignitability. In addition, the aerosol can may also be a hazardous waste if they contain materials that exhibit hazardous characteristics. Similarly, a discarded aerosol can may also be a P or U-listed hazardous waste if it contains a commercial chemical product. Therefore, for several reasons, spent aerosol cans could be a regulated hazardous waste.

 Rule History

The federal Universal Waste program, established in 1995, creates a streamlined mechanism for collection and recycling of Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) hazardous waste. Since 1995, five waste streams have been added to the federal Universal Waste program.

A few states have already added hazardous waste aerosol cans to their state Universal Waste programs. EPA used these state programs as models for this proposed rule.

For more information regarding the Universal Waste program including what types of wastes states have added to their state Universal Waste programs, visit the EPA’s website.

Contributed by Isaac Smith, Environmental Compliance Manager