How to Properly Dispose of Used and Unspent Powder Actuated Tool Cartridges

A powder actuated tool uses casings that are very similar to those of bullets for firearms to house the charge needed to drive a fastener, such as a nail, with a tremendous amount of force. In almost all countries, OSHA regulations or their equivalents require that the user be trained and certified in the use of the tool, as it is very similar to that of a firearm—though instead shooting bullets, the tool shoots nails and screws.

Powder actuated tools are used in a variety of construction industries, and are used with materials that need a tremendous amount of force to be pierced by a fastener, such as masonry or steel. The proper disposal of cartridges that are spent or that did not fire is an environmental concern as well as a safety concern.

Spent Cartridges

Casings for the fasteners used in powder actuated tools are typically made of brass. Spent cartridges are those that have been "fired," and the charge is spent and the fastener delivered from the casing. The disposal of the spent casings is an environmental concern, as these casings would take hundreds of years to decompose (if ever) in a landfill. They also frequently come in strips bound by plastic, which does not decompose.

One solution is to gather all the strips of spent cartridges instead of tossing them in the trash. As they are made of brass, they can be recycled, as can the plastic strips in which they are set. Inspect all the casings in each strip, and remove the casing from the plastic strip with a pair of pliers. Separate the casings from the plastic, and take each to the appropriate recycling facility.

You should also check with the manufacturer or supplier of the casings, as they may reuse the strips. This can save you a little money, since brass is expensive and the company may be willing to buy the material back from you.

Unspent Cartridges

Unspent cartridges are regarded in the same way as live ammunition rounds: potentially hazardous. If a strip of cartridges has never been used, store it in a secure, cool dry environment. If a round misfires or does not fire at all when actuated in the tool, remove the faulty cartridge strip and start with a new one. The faulty unspent cartridges should be stored in water in a bucket or similar type of receptacle.

Check with the manufacturer for proper disposal of the unspent rounds. Allow professionals to handle disposal as they know how to discharge the faulty round or rounds.

Never, under any circumstances, should either spent casings or faulty casings be put in a fire. This could result in discharge. Ultimately, this is very much the same concept of putting a bullet in a fire. The round could go off, and you do not know where that missile will go.