September 13, 2010
Fresh Idea: Recycling Bear Spray Canisters
Bear encounters were in the news often this past summer, and people are paying more attention than ever to bear-safety measures. When traveling in Yellowstone, especially in the backcountry, Park wildlife experts recommend carrying a can of bear-deterrent pepper spray. If other precautionary actions fail, this special type of pepper spray is a good, last line of defense against an aggressive bear. While few dangerous encounters with bears actually occur, thousands of cans of spray are sold each year and disposal of this hazardous waste has become an environmental concern.
Many visitors to the region throw away full canisters because they are not allowed on airplanes. It is estimated that thousands of bear spray canisters enter the waste streams annually, eventually ending up in a landfill. After contacting numerous recycling centers around the country, it was realized that there was no solution to this issue. As a result, Yellowstone personnel, working with the Yellowstone Park Foundation and other partners, began to develop strategies to address the issue.
The solution came from three Montana State University (MSU) engineering students, funded by a grant from the Gallatin National Forest. In early 2010, the trio designed a special recycling machine that removes the pepper oil and the refrigerant (propellant) and then crushes the canister. The next step was to create – and fund – a commercial-grade unit for the Park.
Thanks to generous support from the business community to the Yellowstone Park Foundation, funds were secured to enlist an engineering firm to manufacture this special unit, utilizing the principles that were first developed by the MSU students. The Yellowstone unit will extract all contents of the canisters, thus preparing the metal for eventual recycling as high-quality aluminum.
The canister recycling unit was delivered to Yellowstone in late August and will be in use during spring 2011. Once collection and recycling logistics are determined by cooperating land management agencies and retail outlets, the unit will support bear spray recycling throughout the entire Yellowstone ecosystem. This includes two national parks, six national forests, two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuge sites, various state parks, and numerous gateway communities.
Bear-spray manufacturer Counter Assault is the lead sponsor of the project, providing both cash and technical expertise. Generous support has also been provided by Xanterra Parks & Resorts, Delaware North Companies, REI, Montana Yellowstone Expeditions, WWW Industries, and Mountain States Environmental.
These partners not only have made cash contributions to the project but also are supporting the public outreach campaign to alert outdoor enthusiasts about how they can participate in the recycling program. Thousands of campers, hikers and other travelers will feel good about being safe and green at the same time.