It has been a long time since I have gone camping – sleeping-in-a-tent-on-the-cold-hard-ground type of camping.
I guess I’ve just come to enjoy sleeping in a soft, comfortable bed. Having said that, I still wish I had a dime for every meal I’ve eaten that was cooked up on either an older style, liquid fuel Coleman stove or one of the newer propane versions. I even saw a commercial recently for a new, propane-powered portable hot water heater that heats up enough water to have a shower and have enough left over to do the dishes. It uses one of those little disposable propane canisters. You just screw it in, turn it on and, in a matter of minutes, you have hot water. Pretty cool, I thought at first, and then it occurred to me: what happens to all those little green canisters when they’re finished?
In North America, there are an estimated 40,000,000 one-pound disposable propane canisters used every year. Think about that number for minute. It is staggering. I mean, how many times have you gone camping and seen a pile of empty propane canisters stacked beside the garbage receptacles? Many people don’t know what to do with them when they’re empty or, more often than not, don’t even think about it. They just leave hem behind because they are too lazy and/or simply don’t care enough about the environment. Then there is the question of partly used canisters and residue propane left within. How environmentally friendly is it to expel all that propane into the environment?
In 2009, Coleman came up with a plan to included a Green Key tool with each of their propane canisters as a way to increase empty propane canister recycling. The tool was a simple plastic device that, when inserted into an empty propane cylinder, would release any remaining fumes, rendering the cylinder depressurized and ready to be recycled. Unfortunately, the program was not accepted by the recycling movement and, as a result, the tool is longer included.
The Recycling Council of British Columbia asks people using these types of disposable canisters to take them to a proper recycling depot, where they can be collected to be eventually purged, crushed and the metal reused.
You might think that it would be a relatively simple and environmentally friendly proposition. Well it’s not.
Compressed gas cylinders and disposable propane canisters can be dangerous when included with other curb-side recycling materials as they can explode and catch fire during transportation or processing. Also, compressed gases can be toxic or corrosive, so special handling is required.
Multi-Material BC says they are seeing more and more of these canisters show up in blue boxes, where they actually create a fire risk and a potential worker safety issue at recycling facilities.
There have been several incidents in which canisters were compacted and have exploded. There have also been numerous incidents of underground fires starting at landfill sites when people have included used canister with their garbage.
So simple recycling of used canisters is not all that simple.
Compounding the problem is the fact there is actually quite a few companies that manufacture refillable one- and three-pound canisters and containers that fit the ends of portable appliances such as camp stoves and lanterns. However, the cost to refill such containers is the same as refilling one of the larger 20-pound tanks. The propane supply industry needs to step up and take an active roll in dealing with the issue.
We live in a world of single use everything – all wrapped up in disposable packaging and containers. How many used BIC lighters are there in the world today?
The problem of disposable propane canisters would seem to have a simple solution: refillable canisters.
I guess the other alternative would be to go back to having cold showers when camping and/or figure out a way to use empty canisters to make unique ornaments that you can display around the house – sort of like painted rocks that look like cats curled up sleeping and knitted tissue box covers.