Why You Should Never Toss Hand Sanitizer in the Trash

A woman's hand is holding a small bottle of hand sanitizer between her fingers, taking it out of a purse.

Hand sanitizer has been a common product in people’s pockets, purses, and elsewhere even before the pandemic panic. While it’s great for keeping things clean, killing germs, and reducing infections, once the bottle is (mostly) emptied, it’s not wise to throw it away. Learn why you should never toss hand sanitizer in the trash and safer ways to get rid of it and protect the ecosystem.

What’s the Big Deal?

Hand sanitizer kills germs, but why is it an eco-hazard once you throw it away? The answer lies in its chemical composition. Standard hand sanitizers contain one type of alcohol or another—usually ethanol or isopropanol. While both are great for killing disease-spreading germs on our hands, when they’re thrown away in a landfill, they might eventually escape their containers and leach into the surrounding earth and water supply.

One little bottle can’t do too much damage, but consider the influx of disinfectant manufactured and sold over the past few years. As those bottles, tubes, and jars of disinfectant reach their expiration date, they’ll be tossed. With thousands, if not millions of containers entering the landfills, even a few drops of sanitizer from each bottle is a lot of hazardous waste.

Recycled or No Cycle?

Most hand sanitizers come in plastic bottles. Plastic waste is an already big issue, with millions of pounds of plastics floating in the oceans or buried in the soil. Plastic, of course, takes hundreds of years to break down and degrade, leaving a ticking time bomb for the earth. More immediately, plastic breaks down into microplastics, which enter the systems of living things—mostly aquatic creatures. They kill sea and freshwater animal life and eventually contaminate the food chain.

How To Get Rid of Hand Sanitizer

Fortunately, you can safely discard hand sanitizer containers and their contents. Local household waste collection programs often have special waste disposal methods for hand sanitizers and other commonly used household chemicals. If your community doesn’t have a program in place, it’s worth demanding one, especially if it can extend to electronic waste, paint, large appliances, and similar trash that shouldn’t go to landfills. If you run a large business facility and have used hand sanitizer in bulk, consult a hazardous waste disposal company about proper methods of disposal.

Hand sanitizer bottles, being made of plastic or even glass, may be eligible for recycling, too. Use all the sanitizer, and don’t pour any residue down the drain because it goes straight to the water supply. Remove pumps and caps that may not be recyclable. The label on the bottle, tube, or jar should provide more information on the item’s recyclability.

That’s the skinny on why you should never toss hand sanitizer in the trash. Stay smart by keeping your hands clean when you use sanitizer and dispose of it safely afterward!

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