Can You Throw Away Shotgun Shells

Don’t Risk It: Here’s How to Properly Dispose of Shotgun Shells

Quite often, shotgun owners will find themselves with a bunch of shells they’ll need to get rid of as soon as possible. Typically, these are older shells that owners didn’t store properly. So, as moisture seeped into the boxes over time, those shells slowly became corroded and unusable.

Some people may feel tempted to take the path of least resistance and dump that ammo in the trash. Others may stop and ask themselves the crucial question, “Can I throw away shotgun shells?”

The short answer is no; you can’t throw away shotgun shells. Whether unused or spent shells, throwing them in the trash or dumping them on the ground will cause harmful side effects. Contact your local law enforcement, gun store, or gun range to find the best disposal method in your area.

In this article, we’re going to explore this topic in great detail. Firstly, we’ll look at the different materials for making shotgun shells. Then, we’ll explore the possible effects of throwing away shotgun shells, followed by a few suggestions on how to dispose of them properly.

What Are Shotgun Shells Made Of?

These days, shotgun shells contain at least three essential parts: the plastic case, the brass-plated steel base, and the gunpowder and primer stuffed inside. Depending on the specific type, the shotgun shell could consist of varying amounts of brass forming part of that case. All the while, the plastic case holds different kinds of shots. Those are balls or projectiles made of various types of steel, lead, tungsten, or more.

But why does any of this matter? The reason is simple.

As you can already see, shotgun shells consist of both reusable and recyclable materials. On top of that, they also include dangerous materials like primer and gunpowder, which can easily ignite or explode.

With that in mind, those materials already offer two reasons why you shouldn’t throw away shotgun shells or even bury them in the ground.

How Many Shotguns Are In The United States?

According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, there were 1,585,099 shotguns sold in the U.S. in 2016, making up 9.5% of all gun sales that year.

What Happens When You Throw Away Shotgun Shells

So, what happens if you choose to throw away shotgun shells anyway? Here are just a few things that could occur as a result:

  • A person or an animal might discover it
    Firstly, let’s say you throw away shotgun shells in the trash or bury it in your backyard. In either of those cases, there’s always a chance that someone or something might come across those shells. Assuming that happens, they won’t know that those shotgun shells are compromised.
    In a worst-case scenario, the new shell might explode, hurting the kid or the dog that’s innocently playing with it.
  • The shell might go off during transport
    Let’s say you throw away the shells in the trash. That trash will go into a bag, ending up on a garbage truck to the landfill or recycling center. Along the way, there are many reasons that the shell might get set off. The temperature might get too high, or the compactor could put too much pressure on the shells. Either way, someone could get hurt if those shells go off, and anything flammable nearby could also ignite.
  • You could damage machinery or hurt people
    Depending on how you throw those shotgun shells away, they may end up in a recycling center and some trash sorting machine. Even worse, they could end up in an incinerator somewhere. As you may have already figured out from the pattern above, those shells could fire and cause damage to machinery or hurt the people sorting that trash.
  • You hurt the environment
    No matter what state those shotgun shells are in, you’re wasting a great deal of usable material by throwing away those shells. Instead of wasting them, send them for recycling!

Some people could use those shells to produce new ammunition, tear apart the materials, and recycle them separately.

What Not To Do With Shotgun Shells

Some think throwing away shotgun shells is safer if they disable the primer and gunpowder inside. They typically soak the shotgun shells in water or oil to make the gunpowder harmless.

That is both a wrong and dangerous assumption to make. Firstly, soaking the shells might not get any water or oil into them at all. Also, the gunpowder might dry back up later as it sits in the trash under the hot sun.

Either way, you might think you did something by soaking them in water or oil. The truth is those shells will still pose the same danger as they did before.

Instead of going through all that trouble, why don’t you dispose of shotgun shells correctly?

How Long Do Shotgun Shells Last Before You Should Get Rid Of Them?

Shotgun shells should be changed out every ten years to be safe. Modern manufactured ammunition will last much longer than that, but ten years is a good rule of thumb.

The Best Way to Dispose of Shotgun Shells

So, if you can’t throw them away or bury them in the ground, what’s the proper way of disposing of shotgun shells and other ammunition? Here are a few methods you could try:

    • Shoot them! Unless your shells are damaged somehow, you should take them to the range and have some fun. Train, target practice, shoot skeet, etc. Use them for what you intended to use them for in the first place.
    • Contact local law enforcement. The first thing you can do is speak to your local law enforcement. They may recommend the best ways to dispose of unused ammunition. Alternatively, they might have ammunition disposal programs or initiatives that benefit you.
    • Go to your favorite gun range or gun store. Aside from law enforcement, you could also reach out to the local community of gun owners through your regular gun range or gun store. Some may offer you the service of helping to dispose of your shotgun shells. If not, there’s a high likelihood they’ll know where you should go to get rid of those shells. After all, the odds are that you’re not the first to have a bunch of unwanted shotgun shells!
    • Local household hazardous waste center. Finally, you could contact local recycling centers, particularly those that handle hazardous waste. Some may even take in dangerous materials like shotgun shells and other ammunition. At the very least, they’ll guide you to a facility to help you.


Old shotgun shells can be dangerous if they’re left to sit in your home or not disposed of properly.

You can safely dispose of them by contacting your local law enforcement, gun range or gun shop, or your area’s household hazardous waste center. They can tell you exactly how to get rid of old ammunition unsuitable for shooting. If the shells are still usable, then your best bet is to make a trip to the range and use them as they’re supposed to.

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