Wandering Around Out There With A Canoe On My Head

What Happens To Butane Canisters

by Preston
April 18, 2012

A few days ago, I got into some conversations about those butane canisters for camp stoves, and wrote a post about it. I’ve been phasing them out on my trips, and have been actively encouraging others to do the same. One question I couldn’t answer at the time was when properly handed over to a local waste management center, what happens to those canisters?

My worry was that because of the gas inside, the canisters would simply be labeled as hazardous waste and just be buried “somewhere”, meaning the metal wouldn’t be recycled. So I sent an email to my local waste management center asking about it. Instead of an email, I got a call from the Supervisor of Waste Management, as he felt it would be easier to discuss over the phone, and give me the ability to ask further questions. I was pleasantly surprised with the information he provided me.

The good news is that the metal of these canisters does get recycled. From the waste centers, they get transported to a processor, who hooks up the non-refillable fuel containers so that the gas can be removed, then the metal gets recycled as it normally would. The better/unexpected news is that the gas and fuel that is extracted is also used. Who knew? Since I had him on the phone, I figured I’d bring up a couple of other questions.

First, he made very clear that you shouldn’t just throw your fuel containers in your normal recycling  as you would with other metals. Because of the gas, they won’t take it, and in my area you get a little no-no sticker – the recycling opposite of getting a gold star. You should instead take your canisters to your local waste management center that takes household hazardous waste. I then asked about the canister recycling tools that they sell and whether or not the canisters would be accepted in regular recycling after being treated. (The tool basically vents then punctures the canister to allow the gas to escape.) I was told that while they may in BC, they do not in Ontario, and does not recommend the use of these tools. I can understand that. How would they know the gas hasn’t been removed properly. And besides, if the fuel is collected and reused, no sense just wasting it. (As a minor but valid point, he also mentioned that you should be careful where and how you release the gas for your own safety.)

Of course this is all information based on Hamilton (Ontario), so I can’t speak for all municipalities, but I’m happy to hear all this. And just as I said in my last post, I’d still rather use a refillable gas solution (“Reuse”) but it’s nice to know using butane canisters isn’t as harmful as I suspected it may have been (“Recycle”) – and I’m still going to look further into some less impactful options (“Reduce”).

  • Great post & great information. I’ve been using white gas/naptha/coleman fuel for years in my whisperlite and have been put off by the disposable nature of the propane & butane canisters. Good to know that the canisters aren’t quite as bad as it seemed, but I’ll stick with my fuel bottles.

  • Do you seriously believe as many as one in 20 of these things are recycled? No way. I am a doubter. How many are sold in your area? How many actually recycled the way you describe?

  • @Bryan – Thanks, and I agree with your sentiment.

    @Todd – I agree with you too. I have no idea how many are purchased and would guess very few are recycled at all, nevermind properly. It’s good to know there’s a means to recycle them in place, but I think the best choice is not to use the butane canisters at all.

    • Curiosity about this post led me to call the BC Recycling hotline. There are transfer stations in Burnaby, Coquitlam and North Vancouver (and maybe others) that will accept butane cartridges once they have been emptied with the recycling tool (MEC sells this). They want you to circle the opening and write “Empty” with a sharpie pen, then put them in the scrap metal bin. They told me MEC will also accept the one burner stove cartridges if you have a store nearer than a transfer station.
      These transfer stations also accept the larger green propane canisters that get used with car-camping stoves, but not in the waste metal bin – they have a special collection area for them and they do recover the remaining gas before recycling the metal.
      Still better to use a refillable bottle, but good to know the others are recyclable.

  • If you have Sunoco, Hess, Valero, stations in NJ you will be byunig gasoline from American fuel sources. You car should use no less than 91 octane fuel. Larger Sunoco stations have 91 octane fuel.The last time I drove through your state I noticed many Hess stations.Your on-board computer regulates the fuel air mixture. The anti-knock sensor reduces ignition timing when the octane rating is too low which otherwise causes pre-ignition. The more the anti-knock sensor reduces ignition timing you will loose fuel economy and horsepower.The higher the fuel octane the cooler and slower the fuel air mixture burns. High compression engines deserve higher octane fuel.

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