Yellowstone Forever

May 17, 2011

Bear Spray Canister Recycling Begins

Grizzly bear in YellowstoneAs of this month, Yellowstone National Park is using a unique new recycling technology that allows area visitors to be both safe and green.  The first-of-its-kind unit to recycle bear spray canisters was completed last fall and is now the center of a region-wide partnership that is diverting canisters from landfills.

Carrying bear-deterrent pepper spray, or “bear spray,” is a recommended precaution when hiking in bear country.  Unfortunately, with millions of visitors to the Greater Yellowstone Area each year, thousands of bear spray canisters – used and unused -- end up in landfills, often discarded because they are not allowed on commercial flights.

“Dangerous encounters with bears are actually pretty rare, but most wildlife experts recommend carrying a can of bear pepper spray when in the backcountry,” said Yellowstone Bear Biologist Kerry Gunther.  “If other precautionary actions fail, it is a good, last line of defense against an aggressive bear.”

The eventual entry of bear spray canisters into landfills has become a serious environmental concern, and up until now there has been no mechanism to recycle them.  The solution to this problem came from three Montana State University (MSU) engineering students, who designed a machine that removes the pepper oil and the propellant and crushes the canister, preparing it for recycling as high-quality aluminum. Even the propellant is recycled.

When the prototype was approved for larger scale use, the Yellowstone Park Foundation secured donations from the business community to fund the fabrication of the unit.  An engineering firm utilized the principles that were developed by the students to build the machine.

Bear spray canister recycling unitCanister collection sites are located in Yellowstone National Park, surrounding national forests, wildlife refuges, Gallatin Field Airport in Bozeman/Belgrade, and in retail outlets throughout the entire Yellowstone ecosystem.  A public outreach campaign and posters will tell outdoor enthusiasts about how they can participate in the recycling program.

"Yellowstone has long been a leader in environmental stewardship practices, and saw this as another opportunity to help develop a solution to an issue that has impacts in Yellowstone and well beyond park boundaries,” explained Yellowstone Park Foundation Corporate Relations Manager Tom Porter.

“Recycling bear spray canisters is a significant step in the park’s much larger greening effort, and an excellent example of the innovation that a public-private partnership can bring about," said Porter.

Bear-spray manufacturer, Counter Assault, was the lead private funding and technical guidance sponsor of the project.  Major financial support was also provided by Gallatin National Forest and the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality.

An updated list of canister collection sites and partners involved is available at

Learn more about how to properly use bear spray>>

Additional support in the form of funding, technical resources or manpower has also been generously provided by REI, Xanterra Parks & Resorts, Delaware North Companies, Montana Yellowstone Expeditions, Timber Trails, Four Corners Recycling, and WWW Industries/Mountain States Environmental.


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