The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently signed a final rule that will have a significant impact on the aerosol industry, among others.  The new universal waste aerosol regulation adds hazardous waste aerosols to a short list of waste types which receive less burdensome regulation due to lower overall risks.  The new streamlined rule, adding aerosols to its Universal Waste (UW) list, should be good for the environment, as it makes compliance more broadly achievable, thereby shifting more discarded aerosols away from landfills or combustors, and intentionally toward recycling.

Who It Impacts:  This EPA rule change will impact a wide variety of entities that produce, distribute, sell, consume and recycle or destroy aerosols.  The sectors most affected by this rule are the retail industry and manufacturers, with retailers having the largest total number of locations generating aerosol waste, and manufacturers generating the most volume.

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Here is a link to the complete world aerosol magazine article here:


A change in the way US regulates discarded (non-empty) aerosols has long been needed.  The Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) was first enacted in 1976 with admittedly scarce consideration of the retail industry. However, the current retail sector manages significant hazardous waste through spills, damaged products and customer returns.  In recent years, federal and state hazardous waste enforcement actions have targeted retailers, citing improper waste management practices.  Aerosol wastes are often retail’s largest hazardous waste category, given that aerosols frequently contain either ignitable products and/or ignitable propellants.  The difficulty of correctly determining the regulatory status of individual aerosols was a paramount component of retail’s compliance challenge.   Furthermore, many US states have their own stricter aerosol waste rules, making consistent national programs even more difficult.   Given these complexities, many simply manage all discarded aerosols as hazardous waste.  These aerosols are then required to be sent to either a hazardous waste incinerator or another permitted hazardous waste facility for disposal.

In response, the retail industry demonstrated to EPA that these requirements, which are complicated for other, experienced waste generators, can be unreasonably difficult for retailers.  Over the last decade the retail industry, with the technical support of the aerosol industry, educated the EPA on the life cycle of the aerosol package, and its many benefits, including its recyclability.  The EPA then worked collaboratively with retail, the aerosol industry and others in a public process to produce this rule.

Significant Universal Waste Aerosol Regulation Changes:

The new Universal Waste Aerosol Regulations will streamline requirements for storage, labeling, marking, off-site shipment, employee training, accumulation time, spill response, and agency notification and tracking.  The structure of the new Universal Waste Aerosol Regulations standards are making aerosol can collection programs more economical by producing several meaningful changes in the way aerosol waste is managed:

  • No manifest is required for transporting Universal Waste, and Handlers may receive Universal Waste aerosols from others, allowing consolidation from multiple generators.
    • To encourage this consolidation at central locations, Handlers may store aerosol waste for up to one year.
    • Hazardous waste aerosols that might otherwise be sent to a municipal landfill or combustor under a very small quantity generator or household hazardous waste exemption can be more easily collected and consolidated for hazardous waste disposal or recycling. It is hoped that many will choose this more sustainable option.
  • In a small but welcome step, EPA’s definition of “Aerosol” is being revised to now be harmonized with the US Department of Transportation’s definition.
  • Universal Waste aerosols will no longer be counted toward a facility’s hazardous waste generator status.
    • This will benefit hundreds if not thousands of retail locations: Subtracting a store’s predominant aerosol volumes could qualify it for a lower volume EPA regulated generator category, with fewer compliance burdens and costs.
  • Universal Waste Handlers are divided into two designations, based on the quantity of Universal Waste handled at one time: LQHUWs (> 5,000 kg of UW), and SQHUWs (< 5,000 kg of UW).  LQHUWs must obtain an EPA ID number, retain shipping records, and have more employee training requirements.
    • Handlers may sort aerosols, and puncture and drain them, provided that employees are trained on and follow certain written health and safety procedures, effectively contain product wastes and any emissions, and properly manage any resulting wastes under the Hazardous Material Regulations (HMR). Given the inherent risks of safely locating, operating and maintaining unfamiliar recycling equipment, it may still be prudent to send aerosols to those that have historical experience with safely managing them.
  • Sorting and recycling aerosols, often with flammable propellants and/or products should only be done with appropriate equipment, care and training. The aerosol industry has placed a deserved high priority especially on propellant safety.  I can recommend consulting the HCPA’s (formerly CSPA) Aerosol Propellant Safety Manual chapter devoted exclusively to the many safety precautions required for these recycling practices.
  • The new Universal Waste Aerosol Regulations remind Handlers of discarded aerosols of the existence of other alternatives to a Universal Waste designation. Many unsaleable aerosol products can be safely and sustainably recycled without being designated as waste.  EPA clarifies that aerosol cans shall not be subject to hazardous waste requirements when they are either not solid waste or not hazardous waste.  Empty aerosols may also be optionally excluded from the Universal Waste designation.

EPA's Desired Outcome:  EPA expects the streamlined universal waste aerosol regulations to:

  • Reduce regulatory burdens and costs through a clear, simpler but protective waste system.
  • 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 waste landfills or combustors.

Separately, EPA has recently become more active in efforts to encourage improvements in the currently stressed waste recycling infrastructure in the US, of which empty aerosols are a small portion.  EPA said the rule should be published shortly and will be effective 60 days after that date, although it will still need to be adopted by individual states. To the extent that this new rule safely diverts more aerosols toward recycling, there will be near “universal” support.