Alcohol (ethanol) is used for all kinds of things, and while most people associate alcohol with drinking and the intoxicating effects of this strong chemical compound, alcohol is also a popular and effective medical solvent. This is part of the reason why alcohol is used in hand sanitizer products. During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, it seemed like hand sanitizer was everywhere as people used these products to ward off germs and keep themselves and others safe.
Unfortunately, with everyone buying so much hand sanitizer, people were bound to have a lot left over. Simply throwing away expired hand sanitizer could potentially be dangerous, so companies stepped up to use solvent recycling systems and solvent distillation practices to safely dispose of alcohol-containing hand sanitizers. In order to do this, some companies had to purchase equipment from industrial solvent recycling systems suppliers while others had equipment on-site to handle meet the challenge.
Help From Unlikely Sources
One story that made headlines in the wake of Covid-19 was that of the Eastman Kodak Company. Famous for its long history in the photography industry, Eastman Kodak is well-known for its film products that have been used for decades. Based in Rochester, NY, Eastman Kodak was the perfect candidate for solvent recycling as New York had previously leveraged its prison system to manufacture hand sanitizer in an effort to fight Covid-19.
At one point, New York had in excess of 700,000 gallons of unused hand sanitizer that was set to expire, and the monumental task of processing all of this hand sanitizer needed to be dealt with by a company that understood the intricate nature of industrial solvent recycling. As Eastman Kodak is well-acquainted with handling chemicals, the company was a good fit for the task. In September of 2021, Eastman Kodak agreed to distill 168 tractor-trailer loads of expired hand sanitizer to extract isopropyl alcohol.
Disposing Of Hand Sanitizer On Your Own
While you may not have the resources of New York State or a company like Eastman Kodak, there are some things you can do to safely dispose of or recycle unused or expired hand sanitizer. These include storing hand sanitizers in a cool, dry place when not in use and using all of the product in a bottle before disposing of the empty container. You should also avoid placing empty containers of hand sanitizer in recycling bins.
What you should not do, however, is simply throw bottles of unused or expired hand sanitizer away. Part of the concern with this is that the alcohol content of many hand sanitizer products is ignitable. The potential for ignition when exposed to certain environments can mean that discarded hand sanitizer can become a fire hazard.
Additionally, simply throwing away hand sanitizer may also be a concern for ground water contamination. There are other chemicals in these types of products that can be unhealthy when consumed, and if chemical additives leak into ground water, this can be a concern for public health. In fact, per 40 CFR § 261.21, the federal government considers hand sanitizer products to be hazardous waste.
Per federal regulations, large volumes of hand sanitizer should be stored in a safe place away from people until it can be processed by a certified solvent recycling systems service provider or a hazardous waste disposal company. These companies have the safety equipment necessary to dispose of or recycle flammable solvents without endangering public health, and they are located throughout the country. You can also contact your local administrative officials to ask about disposing of hazardous waste in your city or county.