Recycle Right! The Remarkable Story of Spray Paint Can Recycling in Kane County, IL

Recycle Right! The Remarkable Story of Spray Paint Can Recycling in Kane County, IL


Kane County Recycles manages many public programs for recycling everything from electronics, clothing, to fluorescent tubes and paint. In all of these programs, it is key that the partnering recyclers are doing the right thing with the materials once they are collected.

But are those aerosol spray-paint cans really being reused and recycled?

Photo credit: Amy Dabe, Flat Can Recycling

Kane County Recycling Coordinator Jennifer Jarland says, “You bet!” And the efforts to get those aerosol cans to the “recycle right” Promised Land is a story of ingenuity, perseverance and partnership.

This article takes a closer look at Flat Can Recycling, the spray-paint recycler that was featured in a Kane County Connects article two weeks ago, to show Kane County residents exactly where the paint goes after you drop it off at the Geneva Ace Hardware store or at the scheduled recycling events in St. Charles.  

Kathryn Gordon, the owner of Flat Can Recycling, has been working in construction supply goods (specifically aerosol marking paint that marks underground infrastructure) for 18 years as CEO of Municipal Marking Distributors. She was troubled by the massive quantities of aerosol spray paint cans being thrown in job sites and garbage cans by companies in the industry, namely because it takes steel cans 50 years to degrade, plastic 100 years, and residual paint 13 years.

Gordon said she was inspired to close the loop on the product life cycle of aerosol paint, and that was how the idea for Flat Can Recycling was born.

Photo credit: Amy Dabe, Flat Can Recycling

The passion project began with a great deal of “learning by failing,” and speaking with leaders in disposal and recycling to find ways to ensure that all components of the cans could be sent to the proper channels. Over the last 10 years, Flat Can Recycling has developed a way to disassemble and recycle every part of the empty aerosol paint can, including its residual paint, resulting in minimal waste.

Plastic caps and spray tips are sent to QRS Re-Poly Recycling, where plastic is processed into flakes and pellets for reuse (such as plastic injection molding). Residual paint is sent to Safety Kleen and turned into fuel at one of nine hazardous disposal sites for safe processing. Aluminum cans are sent to Elgin Recycling, where they are processed, refined, and reshaped for a variety of uses.

Photo credit: Amy Dabe, Flat Can Recycling

“In addition to there being an urgency for more closed loop processors in the recycling community, we also see a need for transparency,” Gordon said. “We believe in community in a broad sense and want to see more people get into closed loop recycling. We’re more than happy to have a conversation about how we do what we do.”

One way Flat Can Recycling expresses some of that love for their community is by regularly participating at Kane County’s recycling events. On May 8, July 10, and Sept. 11 (2021), residents may bring their spray paint cans for responsible disposal. A $1 per can recycling fee applies, payable by residents. 

Can’t make it to the event? Flat Can Recycling also partners with local retailers, setting them up as drop-sites for spray paint can recycling. Check out the drop locator to find your nearest site. The Flat Can website also features a schedule showing all the recycling events the company attends throughout the year. 

Since Gordon launched Flat Can Recycling in 2020, the company has recycled 226,997 cans and 10,675 pounds of plastic caps, and has responsibly disposed of 3,689 gallons of residual paint with the help of their partners.

Today, their work benefits the local businesses, residential communities and natural habitats in Chicago and its surrounding areas. 

Photo credit: Amy Dabe, Flat Can Recycling

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