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Ask G: Can I recycle my asthma puffer?

Can I recycle my asthma puffer?

I have recently been diagnosed as an asthmatic and, as such, have to use a puffer twice a day. As I finished a puffer this week I started to wonder what the best way to dispose of it was. Is the plastic recyclable and what is the safe thing to do with the little aerosol inside the plastic case? Are there any puffer suppliers in the world that give the option of reusing the plastic case?
- Cara, Currumbin Valley, Qld


Credit: iStockphoto

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With more than two million Australians estimated to have asthma, you’re not alone, Cara. The holder/mouthpiece or ‘actuator’ of asthma medication inhalers is made from polypropylene (#5 in the plastics identification code). Check if your council collects #5 plastics for recycling at

As for reusing them, there may be a risk of spreading germs. I found one assessment of reused inhalers, published in the journal Infectious Diseases in Clinical Practice, which concluded they are safe to reuse after disinfection.

However, I’ve called several manufacturers and haven’t found any that offer the medication-containing aerosol canister for sale separately. But keep asking at your chemist – the message may get through.

The empty aerosol cans are typically made from aluminium and can be recycled, along with other empty aerosol cans and aluminium drink cans. Separate the aerosol from the plastic actuator – this makes the sorting at waste facilities easier. For safety reasons, never puncture an aerosol can.

Inhalers that still contain medication, such as those that are out of date, should be disposed of through the
Return Unwanted Medicines program (, which collects unwanted medications and drugs through pharmacies. It’s important to keep drugs and medications out of the environment.