How can I recycle my old propane gas tank that can no longer be refilled?

How can I recycle my old propane gas tank that can no longer be refilled?

—Bruce Krasnow, Santa Fe, NM

If you have an older propane gas tank that has been denied refilling by a retailer, it is probably because it lacks an Overfilling Prevention Device (OPD). As of April 2002, the National Fire Protection Agency’s (NFPA) safety code requires an OPD on every propane tank that holds between four and 40 pounds of the gas, which includes tanks normally used for grills, RVs and other devices. An OPD is part of the valve and is designed to prevent the release of gas from overfilling which can lead to fires and injuries.

The NFPA says you can easily check to see if your tank has an OPD by examining the shape of the valve wheel. Most cylinders with a triangular valve wheel have an OPD, and will be marked accordingly. Cylinders with a round or star-shaped valve wheel usually do not have an OPD.

For a fee, you can take your old tank to a local propane dealer for retrofitting with a new valve. You can also sometimes pay a fee and exchange your old tank for a newer model. If you’ve already purchased a new unit, or don’t need to use propane anymore, many dealers will take them, usually for a small fee, repaint them, re-certify them, install an OPD and resell them.

If you have a 20-pound propane cylinder, the Blue Rhino Company, which claims thousand of retailers nationwide, will accept your old tank and provide an upgrade, usually for an upgrade fee and provided your old tank can be refurbished. Then that upgrade can be repeatedly returned empty and exchanged for a full tank. The company reuses and refills the tanks, so this arrangement both eliminates the wait of refilling and maintains a pattern of re-use.

If Blue Rhino cannot refurbish your tank and all else fails, propane cylinders can be recycled at household hazardous waste collection sites. The website provides a free zip code-based directory with information on where to recycle old propane tanks, among other household items, in your local region. Most state departments of environmental protection also include lists of locations that will refurbish or recycle old tanks.

Homeowners should keep in mind that old propane tanks pose an environmental hazard if simply abandoned outside and an explosion risk if thrown into a dumpster or garbage truck trash compactor. Also, cylinders should always be stored and transported upright to prevent potentially dangerous leakage, even if they are on their way to the recycling center or the refill station.

CONTACTS: National Fire Protection Agency, ; Blue Rhino, ; Earth 911, .