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How to Dispose of Empty Hazardous Materials Containers

Learn how to dispose of empty hazardous material containers at UC San Diego.

Disposal of empty hazardous material containers is strictly regulated. The disposal method depends on the container size, what it is made of, and the hazardous material it once contained.

If unsure about your container, please refer to the Lab Containers Flowchart in order to make the correct determination. 

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1. Was the material "hazardous" or "extremely hazardous"?

Determine whether the hazardous material the container once held was an extremely hazardous waste:

2. Confirm the container is really empty.

Containers that held a hazardous material are considered hazardous waste unless they are empty. In California, empty means drip/dry, a container is only CA empty when all pourable liquids no longer pour when the container is inverted and all non-pourable materials are scraped or otherwise removed.  In summary NO DRIPS = CA empty


A container is "empty" when all of the following conditions are met:

  • Liquid hazardous material containers:
    • No liquid can drain from it when tilted in any direction.
    • There is no hazardous material remaining that can feasibly be removed.
    • The walls have no encrusted material on them. (A thin layer of dried material is acceptable.)
  • Solid or non-pourable hazardous material containers (powders, sludges, grease, and thick resins):
    • The interior surface is scraped clean, with no residual material.
  • Aerosol containers:
    • The contents and pressure are completely dispensed.
    • The spray mechanism is in place and functional.
  • Gas cylinders:

If the container qualifies as "empty," go to Step 3.

If the container does NOT qualify as empty and cannot be emptied into a compatible hazardous waste receptacle, then the container and its contents must be collected by Environment, Health & Safety (EH&S) for disposal as hazardous waste.

3. Dispose of empty containers according to size.

After determining your hazardous material container is an "empty" container according to the criteria above, dispose of it according to its size, following procedures below:

  • Capacity greater than 5 gallons (glass, plastic, or metal):
  • Capacity equal to 5 gallons, metal only (for 5-gallon glass or plastic containers, go to the next step):
    • Keep the container closed and cross out labels. (Don't obliterate the original product label; staff may need to see what was in the container.)
    • Write the date on the outside of the container.
    • Place the container on the loading dock of your building to be collected by Facilities Management Recycling personnel.
  • Capacity of less than or equal to 5 gallons (glass, plastic, or metal):
    • Cross out labels on the container. (Don't obliterate the original product label; staff may need to see what was in the container.)
    • Dispose of the container in the regular trash.

Learn more about properly disposing of non-infectious & non-contaminated laboratory glassware.

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Notice: Disposal of hazardous waste using sinks, intentional evaporation, or as regular trash is against the law. Campus laboratories must abide by strict state and federal waste disposal requirements. You may be held liable for violations of applicable laws.