Empty containers

Most businesses use hazardous products. Even if you use all of a product, the container it came in may be considered dangerous waste. Learn how to avoid handling your containers as dangerous waste by making sure they are empty and how to reuse, recycle, and dispose of them.

Containers for products like solvents, paints, and pesticides may be dangerous waste. It's the same for containers that once held any dangerous waste. You may handle these containers as non-dangerous if it fits the definition of an "empty container."

What is an empty container?

The term "empty" applies when you remove all contents of a container by using normal methods. Containers are empty when the following conditions are met:

  • Small containers (119 gallons or less) are empty when no more than 1 inch or 3 percent of the container volume remains.
  • Large containers (greater than 119 gallons) are empty when no more than 0.3 percent of the container volume remains.
  • A container that held compressed gas is empty when the pressure inside the container is equal or nearly equal to atmospheric pressure.


Store empty containers in an area protected from the weather. Make sure containers are covered, bungs are in tightly, old labels are removed, and that they are marked "empty."

We recommend you add the name of the product last stored in the container and the date it was emptied.

Reuse, recycle, and dispose

Empty containers that held acute hazardous waste or toxic extremely hazardous waste must be triple rinsed before they are reused, recycled, or disposed (see WAC 173-303-160(1)(b)). Containers that held pesticides, for example, often need to be rinsed three times. Keep rinse water to a minimum. Do not dump product or rinse water on the ground or down the drain.

If on-site reuse is not an option for you, and your larger metal containers are completely empty, they may be recycled through a drum-reconditioning firm or sent to a scrap metal facility. We recommend recycling empty cans as scrap metal. Check with your metal recycler.

Industrial Materials Exchange (IMEX) often lists exchanges for empty containers. IMEX matches up waste generators with waste users.

Fire codes

Check with your local fire department or fire district for any additional requirements, such as for containers previously used for storing flammable and combustible liquids. In 1991, the Uniform Fire Code defined an empty container as being free from any remaining hazardous materials or vapors.