Whether it’s old, corroding ammunition, or rounds that wouldn’t fire at the range, ammunition is one thing that needs to be disposed of carefully and properly.
Before we jump to methods of recycling, let’s touch on the components that make up a piece of ammunition, also known as a cartridge.
A cartridge is made up of a bullet, casing, gunpowder and a primer. The primer is located on the bottom of the casing, the gunpowder is inside the casing, and the bullet is sticking out the other end of the casing. The bullet is typically made of lead but could be another type of metal or cased in another type of metal. The casing is generally made from brass but could also be steel.
Yes and no. If the ammunition is unused, it’s possible to recycle it, but the ability to do so isn’t widely available. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) created a prototype of a device that can disassemble cartridges into their component parts for recycling.
The metals can each be recycled, and the gunpowder can be reused as fertilizer. This new device will make it easier for police departments and other recyclers to collect ammunition and recycle it.
When it comes to ammunition that has been used, you’re really just left with the brass casing. The brass casing is recyclable, so after a round has been fired at the range, this portion can be recycled. Generally, however, these are actually reused to manufacture new ammunition. Brass casings can be reused a number of times.
If you find yourself with some corroded or unusable ammunition, there are a number of options available to you.
The first place to check is your local police station. Don’t call 911; call their local number and ask if they’ll take ammunition. Many will accept it in smaller quantities. If you have a large amount of ammunition, however, they may not. They may also have additional suggestions on where to take it.
If your local police station won’t accept the ammunition, the next place to check is your city or county hazardous waste drop-off location. You can use the Earth911 Recycling Locator to find a collection point, or check your city/county website. If they don’t collect it there, make sure you check their collection events. While many won’t accept ammunition on a regular basis, they may accept it at specific collection events during the year.
If your local hazardous waste facility doesn’t work, the next place to check is local gun ranges. While this may not work if you have a large number of corroded rounds, if you just have a few, they may be willing to accept them. Many ranges will collect dud rounds (cartridges that don’t fire when the trigger is pulled) and dispose of them properly.
There are a few suggestions we’ve seen or heard that should be clarified. First, don’t bury ammunition as a way to dispose of it. While the gunpowder can be used in fertilizer, the rest of a cartridge is not good for the environment. The lead found in many bullets should not be stuck in the ground where it can leach into the local water supply.
You also should not throw ammunition away in the trash. This is not safe. When that ammunition gets dumped into the back of a garbage truck and the compactor runs, it could cause the cartridge to fire, sending the bullet in a potentially dangerous direction.
Lastly, don’t soak it in water or oil and then throw it away. Some people assume if they soak old ammunition in water or oil, this will ruin the gunpowder and it will no longer ignite if the primer is struck. While this is certainly possible, there’s no guarantee. The water or oil may not make it into the cartridge, or the gunpowder could dry out, making the cartridge dangerous once again if thrown into the trash.