Recycling Spray Paint Cans – A Complete Guide

pexels sami aksu 9611497 Recycling Spray Paint Cans - A Complete Guide

Around 3.5 billion aerosol cans are produced annually in America; however, only a few land in the recycling pile. The reason is simple but alarming. Most people are unaware of how to safely dispose of spray paint cans and simply toss them away in the garbage bag.

The correct way to dispose of a spray paint can is to empty its contents and drop it off at your nearest recycling facility. You can also take it to an aerosol puncture station to release its pressure before placing it in the recycle bin.

Since aerosol cans are pressurized, they can explode if not disposed of properly. Moreover, elements inside the container could leak and cause a harmful reaction if they combine with nearby chemicals. But rest assured as I will tell you how to get rid of your spray paint cans without causing any harm to the environment.

Let’s begin!

Can you put aerosol cans in the recycling?

When you finish a painting project, the first question that pops up is: What can I do with cans of spray paint?

Most spray paint cans contain volatile propellants that are considered hazardous waste. So, while it’s tempting to cast them away in the trash bin, it’s not always the right thing to do.

On the other hand, some people tend to hold on to things and might collect empty spray paint cans even though they aren’t reusable. I advise you to declutter your garage and discard all the empty cans you may have lying around.

Since most of these cans are made of steel or aluminum, they are 100% recyclable. However, you should ensure the cans are completely empty before tossing them in the recycle bin.

Understand your local laws for aerosol can disposal

The disposal laws and regulations for aerosol cans can vary from place to place; therefore, it’s important to understand your local state’s laws in order to follow them correctly.

How to dispose of the full or half-full spray paint cans

  • Some aerosol cans have been added to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Universal Waste Regulations and must be disposed of following the outlined instructions. They offer information on regulations, recycling options, and safe disposal methods. But remember that this classification doesn’t apply to empty cans or those that do not contain hazardous waste.
  • Local government websites often provide information on hazardous waste disposal and recycling programs specific to your area. Check your city or county’s website for guidelines and resources related to spray paint can disposal. For example, the City of New York’s Department of Sanitation provides guidance on the proper disposal of aerosol cans.
  • Waste management companies, such as Waste Management or Republic Services, often have guidelines and resources on proper disposal methods for hazardous waste, including spray paint cans. Check with your local waste management provider for specific instructions and collection events in your area.

As a rule of thumb, the disposal regulations you need to follow depend on the amount of hazardous waste you produce every month. The rules differ for businesses, but most individuals usually fall under the Very Small Quantity Generators category. All you need to do is take your aerosol cans and other hazardous waste material to your nearest waste treatment or disposal facility as mentioned earlier.

Remember to always follow local regulations and guidelines for the disposal of spray paint cans. Improper disposal can harm the environment, human health, and may result in legal consequences.

How do you empty old spray paint cans?

Spray paint cans can be recycled, but only after emptying them completely. Now, there are two ways to go about it. You can empty the can yourself at home or head to an aerosol puncture station to release its pressure.

Whatever you do, do not try to puncture the aerosol can at home because it can explode!

Here is a quick guide to emptying your old spray paint cans:

  1. Shake the can to check if there is any pressurized liquid inside it.
  2. The can isn’t empty if you hear any liquid moving or splashing around.
  3. Press the plastic nozzle and empty the contents until nothing comes out.
  4. Give the can a final shake to ensure there’s no more liquid inside.
  5. Remove the plastic cap from the cans and recycle them separately.

Pro Tip: Empty all your aerosol cans and search ‘Where to recycle spray paint cans near me?’ to head to your nearest recycling center.

An alternate aerosol disposal method- Metal scrap yard

Now that you know the answer to: Can you throw away spray paint cans? There are two ways to dispose of them.

The first is taking your empty cans to a recycling center, and another option is to take them to a scrap yard.

Since most aerosol cans are made of steel or aluminum, the scrap yard will purchase the cans from you. This is a good idea if you have several aerosol cans for disposal. You can also add other metal scraps you’ve been holding on to unnecessarily to make your trip worthwhile.


Does waste management recycle aerosol cans?

Waste management accepts steel, aluminum, and mixed metal aerosol cans. Make sure the can is empty and you have removed its plastic lid before recycling.

How to dispose of aerosol cans that are not empty?

You must empty your aerosol cans before recycling them, but if you can’t for some reason or aren’t sure if it’s empty, take them to a collection point for hazardous chemicals.

Are spray paint cans bad for the environment?

Most aerosol paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that contribute to air pollution and harm the environment. However, modern spray paints do not have a detrimental effect on the ozone layer.

Are aerosols hazardous waste?

Aerosol cans are classified as hazardous waste only when they are non-empty and will no longer be used. According to the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), aerosol cans contribute almost 40% of hazardous waste each year.

PS: You can check out our blogs about spray paint being toxic or cancerous if not properly disposed of.


Spray paint cans are non-reusable, which means you should dispose of them properly unless you plan to use them for another DIY project. If you want to increase the shelf life of your spray paint cans, you should know how to avoid spray paint nozzle from clogging; otherwise, all your stored cans might go to waste.

In addition, understanding your local laws is essential, you can check out the spray painting laws by state so that you are not penalized for any environmental violation. So, make sure to follow the correct procedure as outlined by your city regulations when discarding aerosol spray paints.

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