Workplace Solutions

Proper disposal of gas cylinders

What do I do with my empty calibration gas cylinders?

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Photo: Gasco

Responding is Kevin Wilson, sales manager, Gasco, Oldsmar, FL.

Finding the best way to dispose of empty calibration gas cylinders is an age-old dilemma that can be easily solved. These days, most calibration gas comes in small transportable cylinders and is used on portable and fixed-gas detectors. Made from aluminum or steel, these cylinders, when empty, are defined in many different ways. Some companies consider them normal waste, some treat them as scrap metal and others define their cylinders as hazardous waste and pay environmental companies to pick them up.

Disposing of cylinders as normal waste can present some problems, especially with the threat of terrorism and green activism. Finding empty cylinders in a company’s waste – possibly with some remaining level of pressure in them – labeled with toxic and combustible compounds could attract unwanted attention. Put simply, perception is reality – no matter what the final cylinder disposal determination may be.

The recycling option

These days, sending empty cylinders to a metal recycler is common, but the process is prohibited in some states. When sending popular aluminum cylinders to a recycling company, the cylinders must be completely emptied with valves removed. To do this, the cylinder is placed in a vise, and using a special tool with some elbow grease, the valve can be removed.

Once the valve is removed, most recycling companies require the cylinders to be cut in half. Needless to say, this cumbersome process pushes many companies to delay recycling until it’s absolutely necessary (i.e., once the stack of cylinders becomes a true hindrance). Once again, perception is reality.

Cylinders as hazardous waste

Classifying the cylinders as hazardous waste, as many large organizations do and some states require, seems to be the trend. In general, calibration gas can create confusion when it comes to determining exactly what the cylinder contains (whether empty or full). Key questions that companies are asking include:

  • Are the contents hazardous?
  • When empty, is toxic residue in the cylinder?
  • Is there still remaining pressure in the cylinder?
  • Is the empty cylinder defined as “hazardous” by state or local governments?

In most cases the answers to these questions are hard to find by simply searching through CFRs, and are therefore usually left to a consultant. Most companies don’t spend the time to further investigate. Oftentimes, the option is to hire an environmental contractor to haul the cylinders off for a fee. Perception is reality.

Solving the problem

The solution to this problem is reusable cylinders – a good option for both end users and distributors, and one that also proves responsible manufacturing attributes (i.e., reclaiming waste that results from the manufacturing of a product). In fact, going forward, the eco-smart reusable calibration gas cylinders will become an industry standard. These reusable cylinders are the same physical size and utilize the same C10 valve connection as disposable cylinders. Using accessories such as the eco M/T tool, users can release excess gas, thus ensuring those cylinders are empty and non-hazardous.

Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

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