Solvents like butane are used for an array of purposes, from cooking to refrigeration, but how do you dispose of your butane cans when you’re done with them? You can’t just toss them in the garbage and forget about them. Whether you’re looking to generate heat at a campsite or make cannabis concentrates via hydrocarbon extraction, it’s important to know how to dispose of butane and other solvents safely and legally.
How to Store Butane Safely
Butane cartridges are generally safe to store, but you do have to take precautions whenever you’re dealing with compressed fuel in a can. This is especially true if you’re storing solvents in large volumes. Cans can degrade, and solvents can get released into the air.
Heed the following storage guidelines:
- Keep all canisters away from sunlight, direct heat, flames, and oxidizers.
- Store canisters in a cool, dry location that never exceeds 122°F (50°C). Extreme heat poses the risk of explosion.
- Always store canisters indoors.
- Do not store canisters near electrical outlets.
- Never store solvent canisters in a vehicle except when transporting them.
- Store canisters in a well-ventilated area, and avoid low-level areas like basements.
- Keep canisters locked away if possible and out of reach of children.
- Ensure that all of your canisters are properly labeled.
Garages, storerooms, and large drawers are among the locations where sealed solvent cans can safely be stored. Just make sure that the location is indoors, cool, dry, and separate from any heat sources.
Why You Must Dispose of Butane Properly
Because it’s a flammable gas, butane is recognized as a hazardous substance by OSHA, the EPA, and other regulatory bodies. If not properly stored, used, and disposed of, butane and similar solvents present a risk to both your safety and the environment.
Butane is stored under pressure, and the pressure increases over time as the product disintegrates. Even a small spark can cause the canister to combust, contributing to serious injury.
Even when the can is emptied, traces of the gas can still ignite, causing the canister to explode and potentially triggering fires.
When butane burns, it releases carbon dioxide (CO2) and oftentimes unburned hydrocarbons. While unburned butane is unlikely to have a serious environmental footprint (aside from the possibility of releasing some aerosols), the general goal is to burn off most of the solvent before discarding it—so there’s always going to be some environmental impact.
Local wildlife populations can also be negatively affected if butane isn’t discarded properly. The same dangers apply to similar petroleum-derived fuel gases like propane. Proper disposal minimizes or eliminates the risk of combustion and prevents environmental hazards from occurring.
How to Dispose of Butane
If you’re using butane as part of a commercial enterprise, you’ll want to contract with a waste management provider that handles hazardous waste streams. If you’re making butane hash oils or CBD products, make sure to go with a cannabis waste disposal provider like GAIACA to stay in full compliance with state laws. If you’re just storing butane for personal use, you can dispose of it yourself.
The simplest way to dispose of butane cans is to return them to the retailer who sold them to you. Some retailers will recycle old butane cans on behalf of their customers, but bear in mind that this isn’t always an option and sometimes comes at a cost.
The best way to dispose of butane is to empty the can and recycle it. The process works like this:
- Light the canister and let it burn until the gas empties. You never want to dispose of a butane can with gas remaining inside, but hopefully it’s nearly empty already at this point. When the flames die, you can proceed to the next step.
- Puncture the sidewall of the canister to remove the remaining gas. You can do this with a screwdriver or with a puncturing tool available at sporting goods stores. Use gloves to protect your hands in case the tool slips. As long as you’re not standing beside an open flame or other heat source, the canister will not explode.
- Take your empty or almost-empty can to a local hazardous waste recycling facility. If the can is leaking, damaged, or larger than 25 gallons, there’s a chance your local recycling center won’t accept it. If that’s the case, take it to a hazardous waste disposal site.
Do not toss butane cans—even empty butane cans—into the garbage. Not only is this potentially dangerous, but it may subject you to fines or other penalties.
How to Dispose of Solvents Other Than Butane
The guidelines for disposing of other solvents like propane and CO2 are similar to the guidelines for butane, but there are some important distinctions. For instance:
- How to dispose of propane tanks: Many grocery stores and home stores will happily reclaim used propane tanks and trade them for full tanks. You can also contact a local propane supplier. If you wish to dispose of the tank, it’s usually best to contact your local hazardous waste disposal site. Some municipalities will also allow you to throw empty propane tanks in the garbage, but consult your local laws before doing so.
- How to dispose of CO2 cartridges: Small CO2 cartridges, like those used for BB guns and paintball guns, can usually be discarded in the household garbage, but this varies by location. Larger CO2 cartridges must be taken to a local hazardous waste disposal site.
- How to dispose of organic solvents: Alcohols like ethanol, methanol, and isopropyl, can usually be poured down the sink drain. Just make sure to start the water first to dilute the alcohol. For large organizations that use alcohol-based solvents, alcohol recycling options are available. When dealing with alcohol-contaminated materials (like solvent wipes, for example), you’ll usually need to opt for hazardous waste disposal.
If ever you’re unsure, your best bet is to discard your solvents in one location away from other garbage and then schedule a hazardous waste pickup. This is true whether you’re dealing with butane, propane, or any chemical-based solvent.
How to Dispose of Butane & Solvents at a Commercial Level
The advice in this article is easy to follow if you just have a few butane canisters in the garage, but what if you’re running a large commercial operation? For example, cannabis and CBD extraction technicians require stockpiles of solvents to complete their extractions.
When it comes to disposal, the process is roughly the same for businesses; the difference is primarily a matter of scale. Regardless of the solvents used, businesses should heed the following guidelines:
- Empty your canisters (when possible) and discard them in special hazardous waste containers that are labeled for that type of waste. In other words, don’t mix butane canisters with fluorescent light bulbs; even though they both fall under the umbrella of hazardous waste, they have different waste profiles.
- Ensure that your hazardous waste drums are kept in a cool, dry location. All of the general safety rules apply: Keep waste away from heat sources, sunlight, and poorly ventilated areas.
- Contract with a waste management company that handles hazardous waste. If you already have a waste management provider that won’t touch hazardous waste, you’ll need to contact your local hazardous waste facility and try to establish a schedule for routine pickup or drop-off.
When you know how to dispose of butane and other solvents, it’s that much easier to meet your legal obligations as a waste generator while also staying safe and doing your part for the environment.