How to Dispose of Ammunition

If you’re like most gun enthusiasts, you probably have a stockpile of bullets saved for a rainy day. But what do you do with any old ammo that has gone bad?

You can safely dispose of bad or unwanted ammunition by taking it to your local police station, hazardous waste facility, shooting range, or gun store. Ammo should never be thrown away, as it can be dangerous and harmful to the environment, not to mention illegal in many places.

Whether you happened upon some old bullets while cleaning out your grandpa’s garage or you have some questionably old boxes in the back of your gun safe, here’s everything you need to know about how to dispose of ammunition.

Does Ammo Go Bad?

Old ammunition

Ammo is one of those things that seems to last forever. If you were to grab a dusty box of old ammunition from your grandfather’s stash and shoot it, odds are it’ll go off, even if it’s upwards of 50+ years old.

So, does ammo actually go bad?

Yes, bullets can eventually go bad. If you look carefully at your box of ammo, you’ll see that most manufacturers put an expiration date of 10 years on their rounds. However, the vast majority of bullets will last a lot longer than that.

Cartridges are given an expiration date because there are just too many variables when it comes to their lifespan. It all comes down to how they’re stored and whether they’ve had repeated exposure to water or humidity. And even then, it takes a lot for moisture to get through the primer pocket, according to USA Carry.

The best way to tell if a round has gone bad is to look for rust or discoloration on the primer or the rim of the case indicating that moisture has gotten inside. Bullets that appear to be corroded likely won’t fire and should be discarded.

Additionally, any bullets that are dented, cracked, or otherwise damaged in any way should not be shot.

But, you can’t just toss these rounds into the trash. So, how can you safely dispose of ammunition?

How to Dispose of Ammunition

Random Ammunition Shotgun

Once you’ve determined your ammo is bad, you’ve got to figure out a safe way to get rid of it. Luckily, you have a number of options:

Bring it to a Police Station

One of the easiest ways to get rid of bad ammo is to contact your local law enforcement agency. Give them a call at their non-emergency number and let them know you have some unwanted ammunition you want to dispose of. They should be able to tell you where you can drop it off, either with them or someplace else, or even send an officer to pick it up from you, according to the NRA.

Drop it at a Hazardous Waste Facility

Because something could ignite their primer, and because many of them contain lead, bullets are considered a hazardous material and should not be thrown in a regular dumpster. In fact, disposing of ammunition this way is illegal in some places.

However, most disposal centers do have “hazardous waste days” where you can bring things, like batteries, chemicals, pesticides, and sometimes bullets, that are too dangerous to just throw away.

But, not all of these waste facilities take ammo, so it’s a good idea to give your local disposal center a call before you head there with a box of bullets in your trunk.

Take it to a Local Gun Store or Range

Both gun stores and shooting ranges deal with a lot of ammo in their day-to-day. So, it goes to reason that both these places would have a solution for disposing of unwanted ammunition.

Most ranges have a designated place to toss dud rounds. These bullets are often handed over to local law enforcement or waste disposal centers to safely get rid of them. While they’re by no means obligated to say “yes,” it can’t hurt to ask your range officer if you can leave your bad ammo with them to be disposed of.

Some gun stores have similar arrangements for ammunition disposal, so another option is to try calling your local firearm shop to see if they will accept yours. If not, maybe they know a reloader or two who would be happy to take it off your hands.

Reload it

Recycling is always another good option for dud ammo that just won’t fire. And we don’t mean dropping it off at your local recycling center (you definitely shouldn’t do that!).

If you enjoy reloading your own ammo, know an avid reloader, or think you might want to give it a try, don’t get rid of that old ammunition. Home reloading is a fun, money-saving hobby that is fairly easy to get into. All you need to start out with is a kinetic puller tool to disassemble each round.

As long as the casing isn’t corroded, you can use both it and the bullet for reloading. As far as disposing of the gunpowder goes, you can take it to any of the places listed above or even use it as garden fertilizer (you read that right!).

Disposing of Ammo: What NOT To Do

Random Ammo pistol

We’ve talked a lot about how you can responsibly get rid of bad ammo, but there are plenty of things you shouldn’t do as well.

Throw it Away

Throwing your unwanted ammunition in the trash may seem like an easy solution, but don’t. Tossing bullets into the trash is dangerous, as there’s always the risk that something could ignite the primer.

Not only that, but some bullets contain lead, which you don’t want to just throw into the landfill. Lead is a toxic material, and disposing of it incorrectly allows it to seep into the ground and contaminate local soil and drinking water, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

And if that’s not enough to convince you, there’s a good chance that throwing ammo into the trash is illegal where you live. All things considered, it’s just better to get rid of it responsibly.

Shoot it

It’s okay to shoot old ammunition. It may not fire, but as long as it appears to be in good shape, it likely isn’t dangerous. The problem comes in when your bullets appear discolored, corroded, cracked, dented, or otherwise damaged.

Shooting bad ammo can damage your gun and put you at risk of injury. When you try to fire a damaged cartridge, not only may it not fire, but it could actually break or get stuck inside the barrel. A stuck bullet can be incredibly dangerous, as you’ll then have to remove it before you can fire another round. It’s just not worth the risk.

Keep it

Obviously, there’s no real harm in keeping a box of ancient bullets stored away in your attic. The real issue comes into play when you keep old or damaged bullets stored in the same place as your self defense ammo.

Your stores of ammunition could mean the difference between life and death in a defensive encounter. If you find yourself in a situation where you have to use a firearm to protect yourself or someone else, you need to know your ammo won’t fail you.

When you keep ammunition that is past its expiration date in your gun safe, or worse, in your spare magazines, you run the risk of those rounds not firing. In a best case scenario, this wastes time. In a worst case scenario, it could be too late.

An easy way to prevent this from happening is to strategically cycle through your ammo. Any time you head to the range for some practice, take your oldest box of bullets with you, so your stores of ammunition are always fresh.

How to Store Ammo

Organized Ammunition

Though sometimes bullet corrosion or damage can’t be helped, proper storage can do wonders in extending the life of your ammo.

For long-term storage, keep your collection of rounds in a dry, temperature controlled environment. Generally a closet, gun safe, or even a drawer works well.

If you live in a humid environment, you may want to store your ammunition in a sealed container to keep moisture out. Ammo cans and quality plastic bins are an easy solution. Placing silica gel packs in your storage containers can also help reduce the moisture inside.

To prevent damage, keep your rounds inside their original packaging, a magazine, or in a plastic ammo box instead of dumping them in a heap. Loose cartridges are more likely to get dented or cracked than bullets that are neatly arranged in a box with individual spaces. If you do choose to store loose ammunition, keeping it in an ammo can should prevent most kinds of wear.

Summary

Even though ammo lasts for many years when stored correctly, like most things, it can eventually go bad. Any rounds showing signs of damage or corrosion should be safely disposed of.

The answer to how to dispose of ammunition is simple: You should never try to shoot corroded ammo, and you definitely should not throw it in the trash. Taking your bad or questionable cartridges to a shooting range or store, a hazardous waste facility, or your local police station is the best way to get rid of it.

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