Innovative program covers Greater Yellowstone area and Glacier National Park

What do you do with an expired bear spray? What if you have sprayed part or all of a canister?  Are you about to board an airplane and need to dispose of a can?  Should you throw away a training spray that uses inert ingredients? The answer? Recycle.

Simply take advantage of collection points in the Yellowstone and Grand Teton area that are detailed on a bear spray recycling website.

Glacier National Park has a drop-off at the park’s main gate too. Airports in grizzly bear country in Montana and Wyoming will now collect the canisters. All recycled bear spray ends up at a special sorting machine in Mammoth, within Yellowstone National Park.

The ingenious facility resulted from the initial research of students at Montana State University. Every canister is punctured, flattened, and sold to recycling centers as high-grade aluminum. The plastic is separated out for recycling and the spray ingredients are extracted through a filtering process.  The program dates to 2011, supported by public and private partners.

Preventing cans from entering a landfill is critical for safety reasons alone. As George Hyde, general manager of Counter Assault (lead private funder for the project) explains, “Sanitation workers drive big tractors and machinery and if they run over a can of bear spray, it clears out the collection center.”

Re-using aluminum instead of adding waste to a landfill also cuts down on the need for mining and manufacturing aluminum, a toxic process that has resulted in Superfund cleanup sites, including one in Kalispell, Montana.

“Before this program, thousands of bear spray cans were thrown away,” Hyde says. “We now have more recycled aluminum materials available for purchase and use.”

Tim Lynch, general manager of UDAP bear spray and recycling advocate, points out that the pepper spray has high value for re-use in other products. “For example, the pepper ingredients are added to paint on the bottom of boats to keep barnacles from attaching to them,” he says. Used canisters can also be sent to UDAP in Butte, Montana for recycling.

The invention of bear spray with its nontoxic, yet powerful ingredients has increased safety in bear country—for people and wildlife. Today, the recycling program is assuring worker safety at landfills, reducing waste and demand for raw aluminum, and offering creative ways to reuse ingredients.

Don’t want to buy your own and recycle? You can now rent bear spray in Yellowstone National Park.


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