Propane is a clean-burning, non-carbon dioxide fuel that doesn’t produce harmful emissions and doesn’t contaminate the environment. Propane tanks, or cylinders, store this non-toxic fuel for outdoor grills, stoves, water heaters, camping equipment, and more.
When a tank breaks or gets too old, replacement becomes necessary. But how do you know you are disposing of a propane tank safely?
This article gives you a step-by-step guide for the proper ways to safely dispose of your old propane tanks.
What is a Propane Tank?
Liquid propane comes stored in a variety of different shaped and sized tanks for many different uses. Most commonly found in green 16.4-ounce metal containers, these tanks work on camping equipment like stoves, lanterns, and small heaters.
The larger, 5-pound steel tanks power outdoor gas grills and fireplaces, and other larger outdoor LP gas-powered equipment. There are larger tanks available for supplying homes and businesses, including underground tanks. But, the most popular tanks are the smaller, standard use tanks.
Propane is liquid petroleum gas, meaning when under pressure, the gas liquefies and is a clean-burning fuel. Much like natural gas, propane is odorless, and nontoxic to the environment. However, propane is highly flammable and requires caution when using.
When filling propane tanks, there’s always space left in the tank due to gas expansion when heated. A 5-gallon propane tank only contains about 4 gallons of gas. Manufacturers add a chemical to give off a Sulphur or rotten egg smell, making leak detection easier.
As of 2002, the law mandated all propane tanks be manufactured with overfill devices, stopping the fill at 80% capacity. Today, no propane dealer accepts tanks without these devices. You can add an overfill device to your old tank, but it’s cost-prohibitive compared to buying a new one.
1. How to Tell Your Old Tank Needs Replacing
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Most people don’t realize that propane tanks have an expiration period of between ten to twelve years. Manufacturers make this date easy to find by placing it on the tank handle, close to the tank’s tare weight.
Besides checking the expiration date, make frequent inspections for any signs of rust developing on your propane tanks. Rust can eat away at the tank surface, which causes the heat to build up quicker in the tank. A tank that heats up increases the propane volume, causing pressure buildup and release of propane through the safety valve. While propane is non-toxic, it is flammable, and tanks can explode if damaged or not stored properly.
2. Rules to Remember When Determining Tank Replacement Need
Safety always comes first if you’re handling propane gas. When determining if your propane tank needs replacing, always keep these safety considerations in mind:
- You can not refill a rusty, dented or expired propane tank. You must follow proper safety precautions for disposing of the tank.
- Follow the correct procedures for emptying any residual propane gas left in the tank. As long as you remove all gas, the tanks are recyclable. However, due to gas flammability, we recommend contacting a local propane company or hazardous waste disposal unit.
- Never dispose of propane containers in local garbage collection sites. Collection sites include landfills and other garbage disposal and pickup areas. Propane is highly flammable and can explode, causing damage or injury.
Proper disposal is critical for expired or damaged propane tanks. Improper disposal not only causes damage but can injure you and others. Many areas offer household hazardous waste and materials collections free of charge. The metal of propane tanks is recyclable, but the risks aren’t always worth it unless you know what you’re doing.
Check with your state EPA office for more information on hazardous disposal.
3. When Your Propane Tank Hasn’t Expired or Isn’t Damaged
If you don’t have an expired or damaged tank, exchanging it for a new one is easy. Most propane tank suppliers take your old propane tank for disposal when you buy a new one from them. Places like Home Depot, Lowes, Tractor Supply and other retailers offer a propane tank exchange through a third party supplier.
Blue Rhino and AmeriGas are two of the larger, better known retail propane suppliers. Look for their kiosks at area grocery stores, home improvement, and other retail locations.
Some local farm and feed supply stores, or truck rental stores like Uhaul, sell propane by the pound. These store types normally don’t offer a tank exchange program. But they will let you know if they can’t refill the tank because of expiration or damage. In this case, it might be best to leave the tank with them for disposal. You may have to pay a small disposal fee.
Using a tank exchange program is the easiest way to keep a tank available for all your propane needs. If you don’t have a propane tank, you pay extra to buy a new tank. After the initial tank cost, refills cost between $20 and $25 depending on current gas prices.
4. Disposing of Larger Propane Tanks
Sometimes disposal of large stationary propane tanks means finding alternate uses for them. But if you don’t have experience in tank conversion, we don’t recommend repurposing a tank. Professionals have the knowledge and tools to safely disconnect the tank, remove all the gas and take the tank away.
If you plan to sell a tank for scrap, chances are, unless you’re a licensed propane dealer, you can’t do it. Since propane is a pressurized gas, scrap yards require strict safety gas removal standards before accepting the empty tank for recycling. Scrap yards require some proof the tank is empty.
Attempting to remove propane in any size tank is dangerous unless you’re knowledgeable in the process. Improper gas disposal can cause a fire, property damage or physical harm.
5. Underground Propane Tanks
Some homeowners may have an underground propane tank. Like their aboveground cousins, you can remove and dispose of an underground propane tank. Removing an underground tank involves a lot of work, including unearthing the tank, which comes with a considerable expense. If you still want to remove your underground propane tank, there are additional steps you must take.
Because of the safety issues involved, it’s highly recommended you use a professional service for removal. Underground propane tank removal requires removing all the propane gas and pressure from the tank first.
Once you have the tank empty, it’s recommended you keep the tank in-ground and fill the tank with water or sand. Once filled, the tank isn’t a threat to the surrounding environment as long as the sand or water remains inside. This manner of disposal is the approved procedure of the NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency).
Wrapping It Up
When considering how to dispose of an old propane tank, safety is most important since tanks may contain residual gas. Even a small amount of leftover gas is a safety hazard if you don’t follow proper disposal procedures. It’s best to err on the side of caution when dealing with any flammable substance. When an unlicensed person removes propane from a container, there’s a risk of fire, injury, or death.
Before scrapping an old tank, and after removing all gas from the tank, remove all fittings and valves. Tank gauges, valves, and connectors from an old cylinder are unusable, and you need to discard them.
Whether disposing of a small cylinder from your camp stove or a tank for your barbeque grill, safety comes first. Never throw a tank in the bin for trash pickup. Crushing the tank in a garbage compactor can cause an explosion and damage or injury.
Be safe and exchange your old propane tank or take it to a professional for proper disposal.
For other tools for safety at home, check out our reviews of the Top-rated Refrigerant Leak Detectors.