State classification of aerosols as Universal Waste

Written on: October 1, 2020 by Nicholas Georges

End of life, especially in regard to packaging, is a key component of sustainability. The proper disposal and effective recycling of all products, including aerosols, is critical to protect the environment and effectively manage resources. Conversations surrounding the circular economy typically focus on plastics. However, aluminum and steel must also be included in these conversations in order to achieve a circular economy.

These conversations go beyond just what industry is doing. Legislators and regulators are exploring ways to improve sustainability as well, which could be beneficial to industry. One such example is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent final rule, Increasing Recycling: Adding Aerosol Cans to the Universal Waste Regulations,1 which took effect on Feb. 7, 2020.

Empty aerosol products have always had value in the recycling stream because of the steel or aluminum container, and the aerosol industry has consistently advocated for all aerosol products (both full, partially full and empty) to be included in recycling streams. Now, with the recent regulatory changes enacted by the EPA, it is finally easier for entities to manage non-empty aerosol products and recycle the steel or aluminum container after capturing and/or processing any waste product.

The streamlined universal waste regulations are designed to:

• Promote the collection and recycling of aerosol cans
• Ease regulatory burdens on those who discard hazardous waste aerosol cans
• Encourage the development of municipal and commercial programs to reduce the quantity of aerosol can waste going to municipal solid waste landfills

Under the Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA), the EPA encourages States to develop and maintain their own hazardous waste programs rather than manage them through the EPA. As a result, most States have set up hazardous waste programs, including their own universal waste (UW) programs.

State adoption of the EPA’s new rule is optional because it is less stringent than previous requirements. This is not only a result of accepting aerosol cans into the universal waste program, but also includes other allowances. For example, a one-year accumulation of aerosol cans is now allowed, as well as reduced transportation requirements (rather than the full hazardous waste transportation regulations). For States that do not adopt the rule, full or partially-full aerosol cans will continue to be classified as a more burdensome and costly hazardous waste.

Additionally, States have the ability to create different standards to handle aerosol cans so long as they meet Federal regulations. The Household & Commercial Products Association (HCPA) has been advocating that States adopt the EPA’s rule in order to create consistent standards to manage discarded aerosol cans that still contain product. This will help waste management companies implement the same operating procedures across the country.

Under RCRA, States can add additional wastes that are not Federal universal wastes to their UW programs. Prior to adopting the EPA’s rule, six States 2 had incorporated aerosol cans into their UW programs because it helped improve the overall management of  handling non-empty aerosol cans. These six States shared their experience of adding aerosol cans to the Federal universal waste list with the EPA, highlighting that they were able to safely handle non-empty aerosol cans. Upon finalization of the rule, several more States quickly moved to include aerosol cans in their UW programs.3 Additional States have initiated rulemakings, and even more are planning to do the same soon. The speed with which States have taken up this effort is an illustration of the intrinsic benefit of this regulatory action.

The map below shows the current status 4 of States adopting aerosol cans into their universal waste programs:












Adding aerosol cans to State UW programs is just one element to improve the  sustainability of aerosol products. HCPA has been actively engaging States, as well as collaborating with the Retail Leaders Industry Association (RILA), to encourage their adoption of the EPA’s rule.

While easing the burden of processing non-empty aerosol cans and recycling the metal container is an important step, there is still work to be done to achieve a truly effective recycling system. HCPA is collaborating with other associations, including the Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI), to better understand the waste disposal system for aerosol products and whether there are technical barriers to process and recycle aerosol containers, which is an activity we encourage the entire aerosol industry to participate in.

For more information, contact Nicholas Georges at SPRAY 


1 Final Rule can be found here
2 California, Colorado, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio and Utah
3 Alaska, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania
4 As of Aug. 24, 2020