4 The record articles

Aerosols as Universal Waste

Posted: July 28th, 2020

Authors: All4 Staff 

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) finalized the Aerosols as Universal Waste Rule in December 2019 with an effective date of February 7, 2020.  Seven states and territories have adopted the new rule as of June 2020, with approximately 11 states reporting that their adoption will occur in 2020-2021.  For those states that have adopted, facilities can evaluate and implement – if your state has not yet adopted, practical guidance for planning and checking the timeline for adoption is provided in our observations and recommendations below.

If your facility is a small or large quantity generator of hazardous waste, and you manage spent aerosol can waste, the new rule may provide both relief from regulatory burden and a financial benefit.  Here are key highlights from the rule:

  • The new rule uses the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) definition of “aerosol” from 49 CFR §171.8, “an article consisting of any non-refillable receptacle containing a gas compressed, liquefied, or dissolved under pressure, the sole purpose of which is to expel a liquid, paste, or powder and fitted with a self-closing release device allowing the contents to be ejected by the gas.” That choice aligns with the definition that states with existing aerosol can universal waste regulation used.
  • The new rule allows – but does not require – the handler facility to manage the hazardous, non-hazardous, and “empty” cans together in a single system. Aerosol can universal waste handlers can puncture and drain cans, with the rule providing flexibility for facilities to incorporate their “empty” cans, cans that would have been characterized as Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) hazardous wastes, and cans that would be characterized as non-hazardous in a single management system.  The benefits of puncturing aerosol cans include:
    • Eliminating manifesting requirements for the punctured cans – the cans become scrap metal for recycling.
    • Reduced disposal cost of generated hazardous waste – most disposal vendors charge by the drum, and puncturing cans reduces the facility’s number of drums by consolidating the volume.

Some observations to consider in evaluating implementation the rule into the facility’s management system for spent aerosol cans:

  • Universal Waste Handlers – most hazardous waste generator facilities also operate as Small Quantity Handlers of Universal Waste – can accumulate universal waste onsite for one year. Many hazardous waste generators ship waste aerosol cans in containers that are 25 to 50 percent full because of the 90- or 180-day accumulation time limits that apply to Large and Small Quantity Generators, respectively.  Moving the waste aerosol cans  out of the hazardous waste system, with those accumulation time limits, will allow consolidation and less frequent shipments when using the 1-year accumulation time limit for Universal Waste Handlers.
  • Just as compressed gas cylinders should not be stored in the flammable liquid cabinet – don’t include compressed gas cylinders in your aerosol can universal wastes. The misclassification would be twofold, as the cylinders would be incorrectly profiled with the treatment storage and disposal facility (TSDF) and the DOT hazardous material labeling and shipping papers for the container would be incorrect.
  • Puncturing and draining cans will require high-quality puncturing equipment to meet the air, waste, and health/safety standards. In addition, puncturing cans requires additional labor beyond simply handling aerosols intact as universal waste.  Facilities should conduct a cost comparison that considers these factors:
    • Generation volume
    • Technician labor and training
    • Maintenance of the puncture device – including the filter
    • Disposal cost – collected residues versus intact aerosols
  • Some states will adopt the new Aerosols as Universal Waste rule by reference, while others may adopt more stringent or complicated versions. Exclusions and labeling differences could affect how aerosol universal wastes are managed in both the small quantity handler state and the disposal facility state.
  • The new rule also requires Handlers to prepare a written procedure in the event of a spill or release and a spill clean-up kit must be provided. Spills or leaks of the contents – more likely from puncturing cans, but still possible from storing universal waste aerosol cans that leak – must be cleaned up promptly.


  • Monitor the status of adoption of the rule in your state.
  • Ask your disposal vendor for pricing – and how the rule adoption has affected their operations in their disposal facility states.
  • Once your state’s rule is finalized, perform a Return-On-Investment calculation using the factors presented. If your facility does not generate enough waste aerosol cans, puncturing and draining may cost more in the long run.
  • Review your facility’s spill cleanup procedure and confirm that the requirements of the new rule are covered, especially if the facility elects to puncture waste aerosol cans.
  • Finally, with the updated spill procedures, revised labeling requirements, and potentially guidance on using the puncturing device, providing training for the affected personnel and document. The universal waste training requirements are simpler than those for hazardous waste, but new universal waste streams and management procedures drive updates that inspectors may review.

If you have additional questions, please contact your ALL4 project manager.


    Sign up to receive 4 THE RECORD articles here. You'll get timely articles on current environmental, health, and safety regulatory topics as well as updates on webinars and training events.
    First Name: *
    Last Name: *
    Location: *
    Email: *