It is estimated that 40-60 million disposable 1 lb. propane cylinders are sold each year. These are among the most popular options for family camping trips or even for some back door holidays as they are affordable and convenient. The problem is that these classic green cylinders associated with camp cooking create a broad waste management issue as a safety hazard for workers.
With the high number of single-use propane cylinders sold and used each year, it is not surprising that many end up in landfills because consumers have no other choice. Most local municipalities do not have the budget or resources to deal with them, and many large manufacturers of these disposable canisters do not have systems currently in place for recycling or return programs.
In some areas, this has become such an issue that we may soon see attempts to reduce waste associated with these disposable propane cylinders. California proposed a bill banning the sale of these single-use propane cylinders (1 lb DOT 39) domestically by 2028.
However, as consumers, we are often left with empty propane cylinders that we do not know how to dispose of properly. So what should we do?
Can we fill them?
Is there a way to recycle them?
The answers to these questions may not be what you want to hear, but the good news is that we can answer them.
Can you refill available propane cans?
While these propane canisters fill park bins or are left abandoned in camps, I think we can all agree that there is a problem.
One solution that many people on the internet suggest is recharging them. They say it saves you some money and is a more sustainable option. While these things may be true, it is a dangerous move that can jeopardize your own safety and the safety of others. Federal regulations administered by the Department of Transportation actually prohibit the transportation of DOT 39 refilled cylinders (1 lb disposable canisters). Violation of this includes a large fine and the potential of five years in prison.
Despite this, the recommendation to refill propane cylinders is widespread and many people still make it. There are even tools you can buy to make it easier to recharge. Those who fill these canisters pass regulations using only refilled ones on their property and not transporting them for camping or other uses.
We do not recommend refilling disposable propane canisters due to safety concerns, especially if you overfill them. There have been incidents where these refilled canisters explode, including a reported fatality.
If refilling small propane canisters used for camping sounds like the most sustainable option, you are not wrong. So to do this safely, buy a refillable box. The construction of a disposable and refillable container varies, which is partly why refilling DOT 39 cylinders is not considered safe.
Rechargeable options are much safer and easier to recharge yourself. These can save you money and headaches for proper disposal of disposable canisters in the long run.
Another great option is to use an alcohol stove or a liquid fuel camp stove. These options are very affordable in terms of fuel and are extremely easy to recharge. They may not be as convenient as the classic Coleman green canister. However, they offer consumers an easy refill option and liquid fuel stoves tend to work better in cold weather or at high altitudes.
How to Recycle Disposable Propane Boxes |
If refilling or discarding them are not the best options, what do we have to do with these containers then? While they are made from steel materials (and steel is infinitely recyclable), they are also not easy to recycle.
Before going through the process described below to prepare the recycling box and ask if your local recycling program accepts them or not. Usually, this information can be found on the municipality’s website or by contacting the recycling and waste management center directly.
Many recycling centers will not accept single-use canisters because of the safety risk to employees. However, if they accept them, they often ask you to do the following before leaving:
- Empty the container completely
- Drill the empty container
- Label the EMPTY container explicitly
We will use Coleman cylinders as an example as they are among the most popular disposable cylinders that people tend to use. Coleman incorporated a Green Key tool into every canister sale in 2009. The green key can be used to empty the canisters to be safely recycled.
Unfortunately, even with this tool, it was not widely accepted by recycling centers and has since been discontinued. Other brands have a similar device that does the same thing, such as the JetBoil CrunchIt tool. The other option for emptying the canister is to burn it completely by attaching it to your camp stove and lighting it in an open area. However, this is not always a guarantee and can be dangerous if you decide to drill the box.
The advantage of using the Green Key tool versus other options is that it locks permanently at the top of the box. If your recycling center accepts these propane canisters, they can see that the box is empty and safe to use for sorting and recycling.
Whatever you decide, do your research before throwing out the empty boxes. Some companies have stepped up efforts to open recycling programs, some parks collect cans, and some local centers accept empty cans.
ODo not dispose of canisters if your recycling center accepts them. This is not only a potential hazard, but almost always ensures that they end up in landfills.
The parks that participated in the Zero Landfill Initiative have started plans to ensure proper disposal of the containers. An important risk they avoid by adding these programs are fires and explosions during garbage collection that can lead to fires. Some cities also organize hazardous waste collection days or events. Be on the lookout for these types of programs so you can safely dispose of your propane canisters.
Unfortunately, because many local recycling centers or steel recyclers still do not accept propane canisters, you may end up throwing them in the trash. If the only option is to dispose of them, we recommend emptying them using a tool like CrunchIt. This way, you do not have to worry about a potential hazard to the waste management staff.
Instead, select “Reusable”.
Reusing canisters is still the most sustainable option we have. To reuse camping propane canisters safely, invest in a reusable one instead of a disposable one. There are currently not many options available, but here are two of our favorite options of the 1 lb reusable propane box.
Question: Can Coleman 1lb propane tanks be refilled?
Technically speaking, yes, the available Coleman green canisters can be recharged using a 20 lb propane tank, and there are adapters to help you do just that. We do not recommend refilling these cylinders as there is a risk of overfilling or leaking. Some risks and potential risks far outweigh the cost-benefit of refilling these cylinders.
Q: How do I know my propane box is empty?
Using a CrunchI tool or a green wrench, if you have one, you will notice that the box is empty when no more fuel can flow. You can also compare the weight of the box tar. Some tools allow you to safely drill pressurized steel cylinders and, when held in place, will allow the remaining fuel to drain before removing the tool.