Aerosol Can or Can’t?

Written on: February 1, 2022 by Nicholas Georges

Improving the recycling system before it’s too late

You may have read one of my previous columns about a collaborative effort between the Household & Commercial Products Association (HCPA) and the Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI) to improve the recycling rate of aerosol products. The goal of this initiative is to educate U.S. consumers about recycling, improve their ability to recycle empty aerosol containers and demonstrate to policymakers the industry’s commitment to improving the recycling system.

Many consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies have been exploring how to improve the recycling rates of products, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently set an ambitious goal of increasing the nation’s recycling rate to 50% by 2030. States are also stepping up in this space—not only improving their recycling programs, but also their overall waste management programs. While we recognize that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to improving waste management in the U.S., there has been one policy framework that has been gaining momentum: Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).

EPR requires the producer of a product, such as the marketer, manufacturer and/or importer, to take responsibility for the product’s end-of-life. This “producer pays” principle aims to shift the cost away from the public sector and onto producers. Some EPR programs may also include incentives to incorporate sustainability aspects into the design of the product and/or its packaging.

EPR isn’t a new concept in the U.S.; some products have already had to comply with EPR laws and regulations, including paint being managed by PaintCare i. However, in 2021, Maine ii and Oregon iii became the first two States to pass EPR laws on consumer product packaging.

New EPR policies in Maine cover all packaging used for the “containment, protection, delivery, presentation or distribution of a product at the time that the product leaves a point of sale with, or is received by, the consumer of the product,” including secondary and tertiary packaging, such as the carton or shrink wrap of a pallet. Under the law, the Maine Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) requires producers to join a State-appointed product stewardship organization that requires industry to pay costs determined by DEP.

In Oregon, packaging is defined as “materials used for the containment or protection of products,” including paper, plastic, glass, metal and mixtures. Single-use bags, food service ware and paper products are also covered within the scope. Oregon follows a producer responsibility model wherein companies join a Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO) to manage the collection and processing of a specific list of “producer-collected materials” that are not currently collected by existing municipal recycling programs.

The most significant difference between these two laws is how much more input and influence Maine  DEP will have over a  single State-appointed product stewardship program. In Oregon, companies will have more input regarding how multiple PROs could operate. We don’t exactly know how aerosol products will be treated in either State, or the related costs, since they’re still only in the beginning stages of implementation and rulemaking.

HCPA has been involved in a number of discussions in other States across the country that are considering implementing their own EPR policies. Of most significance is California, whose Statewide Commission on Recycling Markets & Curbside Recycling has made a recommendation iv to the State legislature to require all aerosol cans to be managed through an EPR system by 2025 v. California’s Recycling Commission views vi aerosol products as a “hard to dispose of” commodity and believes the potential and perceived risks associated with managing waste from aerosol cans are not worth the economic value of their recovery.

One of the goals of the joint aerosol recycling initiative between HCPA and CMI is to demonstrate the economic value aerosol cans have in the recycling stream. The aluminum or steel in aerosol products are inherently valuable and data has shown that recycling aerosol products presents a very remote risk of a significant incident. Previous research viii has shown that aerosol cans can be recycled and, by developing additional data and working with stakeholders to increase the acceptance of aerosol cans, we hope to paint a more robust picture of the safety and benefits of recycling empty aerosol containers, which we can then use in conversations with groups such as California’s Recycling Commission.

I hope that consumers will continue to be able to recycle empty aerosol containers through curbside collection, but a task force within HCPA’s Aerosol Products Division is going to be exploring the potential challenges and opportunities to develop a stewardship program for aerosol products. A program like this could be extremely valuable to consumers, businesses and other stakeholders that want to properly dispose of aerosol cans. There is also a possibility that California (or another State) will require the formation of an aerosol stewardship program, and this will ensure that we’re prepared. If you’re interested in learning more about our aerosol recycling efforts or want to join the aerosol stewardship program, please contact me at [email protected]. SPRAY


i To learn more about PaintCare, see paintcare.org
ii Maine’s EPR Law can be found here.
iii Oregon’s EPR Law can be found here.
iv The Statewide Commission on Recycling Markets & Curbside Recycling documents are available here.
v The California Recycling Commission has also made the recommendation that aerosol spray paints are incorporated into the PaintCare program as soon as feasibly possible.
vi During a public meeting on Oct. 20, 2021, HCPA presented to the California Recycling Commission about the recycling of aerosol products. The meeting minutes, which includes highlights from the Q&A after the presentation, are available here.

vii https://sustainablepackaging.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/2020-21-Centralized-Study-on-Availability-of-Recycling-SPC-7-2021-1.pdf