Think, don't bin it: the explosive danger of disposing canisters incorrectly

From hospitals to homes, clinics and camp sites, police stations to petrol forecourts it is highly likely that you’ve encountered pressurised canisters in many of their shapes and sizes. What is also likely, is that you may not be fully aware of their explosive risk and how dangerous they are when not disposed of properly. 

In fact, non-compliant disposal of pressurised canisters is a major health and safety issue – which can have long-lasting and catastrophic effect on people, the environment and the continuous running of vitally important waste management services,

At Stericycle we provide specialist and compliant medical waste management solutions, we don’t offer canister disposal services. 

We’re launching our Think, Don’t Bin It campaign to help raise awareness of the dangers associated with improper canister disposal and why correct segregation of medical waste is more important than you may think.

Why should we be concerned about pressurised canisters?

As a HSE facility or independent healthcare provider, you may be using oxygen, entenox, medical air and/or cryogenic liquids that are stored in pressurised gas containers. Just as it is important to store these canisters in safe, secure and compliant environments, it is vital that they are also disposed of correctly to help lower the risk of explosion.

Think about it - canisters often contain stark warnings of being extremely flammable and how they should be protected from sunlight and temperatures exceeding 50°C.  Other warnings may state that the canister should be kept away from sources of ignition and never burnt or punctured - even after use.  So putting a pressurised canister in a risk waste bag  is a catastrophe waiting to happen.

What are the dangers of improper disposal?

Placing a canister in a clinical waste bag or larger container bin may seem a completely innocent action – but the risks are real and can put people and the planet in danger far from where the original disposal took place.

The danger of an exploding canister is four-fold:

  • Health and safety of waste operators at disposal sites who are working hard to manage the compliant process of hazardous waste;
  • Unplanned outages with waste processing facilities being taken off-line for considerable periods of time while equipment is checked and replaced following an explosion;
  • Environmental damage both through the potential of greenhouse gases escaping into the air and the impact of waste having to be transported to alternative treatment sites 
  • Financial consideration of the rechargeable equipment damage costs

Adrian Harris, Facilities Engineering Manager in Stericycle has seen the dangers first hand.

“The impact of pressurised canisters entering the risk waste stream is above all, a major safety hazard.” explains Adrian. “There are significant repercussions when an explosion takes place. Not only can damage occur to the surrounding building but the resulting debris can seriously injury our site operators, and especially if they are working close to the equipment. 

“The explosion could also trigger an environmental disturbance when uncontained gases leak from the process into the atmosphere. Even seemingly smaller, more innocuous canisters can cause considerable downtime, environmental concerns and repair costs.”

Explosions not only have immediate consequences, but they can lead to long-term damage to the facility's internal structure. 

Adrian explains: “An explosion inside can weaken the structure over time, causing issues that may not be immediately apparent. Canisters are pressurised containers and when subjected to shredding and high temperatures , they explode - even non-flammable substances pose a risk as they can create internal explosions, over-pressurising it and releasing gases.  and smoke.” 

Alex Fisher, Operations Director at Stericycle agrees: “The risk of a catastrophic injury is uppermost. An explosion at one of our sites creates a risk to the health and safety of our team members who make sure that risk waste is transported and processed safely every day. 

“But there’s also the operational implications on our customers when a plant is taken offline potentially for considerable periods while checks and rebuilds are completed. This will impact the mainly unseen but vital services we provide to hospitals and independent businesses across the country through managing their healthcare risk waste.

Can you recycle gas canisters?

In the main, yes. But not with Stericycle.

Canisters must be disposed of safely and in the right way to help protect human health and the environment. 

Organisations will have different policies and schemes in place for disposing of used canisters. These should be followed to help make sure that the cylinders, canisters or bottles you use are disposed of safely and wherever possible, reused or recycled.

How to dispose of gas canisters safely?

Pressurised canisters come in diverse types and it’s not one specific type of canister that can be dangerous if it gets to the wrong place. 

Stericycle partners with a diverse range of customers including hospitals, clinics, veterinary practices and law enforcement agencies like the police. Many of these organisations will regularly use canisters in their day-to-day operations - from oxygen canisters in ambulances to CS gas canisters used by police forces.

Proper disposal of pressurised canisters is crucial to help mitigate the risk of explosion and injury. But unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution and different organisations will have their own policies in place, alongside national regulations, on how canisters should be safely stored, handled and disposed.

Alex continues: “Overall, staff training, clear signage and placing the right items in the correct bins are the basic and essential measures to help prevent accidents; and regardless of type, pressurised canisters are not accepted in clinical waste streams and proper channels for disposing of such canisters must be followed to avoid safety hazards and environmental damage.”

Think, don’t bin it

It’s a simple but powerful message - think before you bin it. 

Fire safety is everyone’s responsibility and by working together, we can help make sure that your clinical waste is disposed of compliantly, cost effectively and safely, while also keeping our facilities and our team members safe.

By understanding and raising awareness of waste segregation and promoting the correct and defined recycling and disposal methods for canisters, we can collectively help to protect the smooth-running of healthcare risk waste disposal, the environment and importantly, human life.