Yellowstone National Park, working with several public and private partner
organizations, last week unveiled a unique new recycling technology at REI’s
Bozeman, Montana, store that allows Yellowstone area visitors to be both
safe and green.
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
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. This first-of-its-kind device now allows bear spray
canisters – even full ones – to be safely emptied and crushed, reducing
both the emission of harmful chemical propellant and pepper-based irritant
into the air and the overall mass of the product in landfills.
Two years ago, Yellowstone National Park and the Wyoming Department of
Environmental Quality agreed that a recycling project would address the
problem of these cylinders ending up in landfills. Subsequently, the park
and its partners began to develop strategies to address the issue. The
solution 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. The initial prototype was funded by a grant from
the Gallatin National Forest.
When the prototype was approved for larger scale use, Yellowstone National
Park’s fundraising partner, the Yellowstone Park Foundation, secured
donations from the local business community to fund manufacture of the
unit. Billings, Montana-based engineering firm WWW Industries/Mountain
States Environmental, Inc., utilized the principles that were developed by
the students to develop the first machine.
The canister recycling unit will be put to use starting this spring.
Collection sites will be located in Yellowstone National Park, surrounding
national forests, wildlife refuges, Gallatin Field Airport and in retail
outlets throughout the entire Yellowstone ecosystem. A public outreach
campaign and posters will educate outdoor enthusiasts about how they can
participate in the recycling program, with an emphasis on how to safely
dispose of the spray canisters at approved recycling collection sites.
“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,” said
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.”
Bear-spray manufacturer, Counter Assault, is the lead private funding and
technical guidance sponsor of the project. 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, the
Gallatin National Forest and the Wyoming Department of Environmental
An updated list of canister collection sites and partners involved is
available at bearsprayrecycling.info.