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5-minute read

Don’t toss that trigger! Why reusing a spray or pump is even better than recycling it

You might think it’s just a handy way to dispense a product. But a trigger or pump is an engineering marvel. They often include 10 or more components, like valves, springs, gaskets, tubes, nozzles and more. Unfortunately, that means they can also be difficult to recycle. 

Why use a trigger or pump at all?

Triggers and pumps are great because they control how much is dispensed from a package and do it cleanly. Imagine the challenge (and waste!) of trying to clean windows by splashing random amounts of cleaner on them instead of using a tidy spray.

The same holds true for lotions and soaps dispensed by pumps. Not having a controlled pump mechanism could lead to a lot of wasted product and money down the drain.

But there must be a way to make triggers and pumps recyclable?

There is. Companies are innovating to create dispensers made completely of recyclable materials. But there are still many unrecyclable triggers and pumps on the market. These often use a mix of different types of plastic and may have glass or steel components, too.

This means it’s really important to consider what to do with used up products before you toss them in the recycling bin. Those with recyclable triggers will likely say so on the label. If a trigger or pump isn’t recyclable, it will probably end up in a landfill. 

Couldn’t I reuse a trigger or pump instead?

Yes! In fact, that’s the best option. Reusing means no plastic is required to make a new one. Considering that the trigger or pump is often more than a third of the total package weight, that’s a lot of plastic you can save.

Some brands even sell “flat cap” versions of their products with the intention that you’ll reuse a trigger or pump to reduce waste. Others offer refills so the entire package can be reused.

Fun fact: The average SC Johnson trigger bottle can be refilled and reused around 13 times! So even if the trigger is recyclable, there’s no reason to recycle it too soon.

To clean a trigger or pump, follow these steps:

  1. Hold the trigger or pump under running water to remove any product that’s left on it.
  2. Rest the tube in a cup or bowl of warm water and spray or pump a few times to bring the water up through the tube and spray/pump mechanisms. Keep doing this until the water sprays clear.
  3. Take the tube back out of the water and spray or pump a few more times until the device is empty and water has been cleared from it.

Here are other easy actions to reduce waste…

  1. Message your favorite brands on social media and tell them you want recyclable triggers or pumps on their products.
  2. Buy refills so you can reuse the bottles and sprayers you already have without needing a new one.
  3. Ask your local recycler how they handle triggers and pumps, to see if there are special steps you can take to make recycling them easier. 

Terms to Know

The first, best way to get the most out of a trigger or pump bottle is to refill it when empty and keep using it. That way more plastic isn’t required to make a new bottle.

If you no longer need the product whose bottle had the trigger or pump, think about how else you could reuse the bottle. For example, trigger sprays are great for misting plants, and can be refilled again and again with water.

Despite their complexity, some triggers and pumps are now recyclable. If you don’t know if yours is, check with the manufacturer. If it’s not, tell them you want them to change to recyclable materials!