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Yellowstone Area Partners Unveil New Bear Spray Canister Recycling Effort

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avatar Yellowstone Area Partners Unveil New Bear Spray Canister Recycling Effort
May 07, 2011 05:24PM
Yellowstone National Park, working with several public and private partner organizations, today 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 aggressive bear.”

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 Quality.

An updated list of canister collection sites and partners involved is available at http://www.bearsprayrecycling.info.
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