How to Dispose of Old Ammo

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How to Dispose of Old Ammo

Does ammunition go bad? Can I throw away bullets? How to dispose of old ammunition?

Whether you're completely new to shooting or a seasoned pro, at some point there’s a good chance that you have encountered ammunition that can no longer be shot and were unsure what to do.

For this reason, we’ve put together a detailed overview of the Dos and Don’ts when it comes to where and how to dispose of old ammo, whether it's old or damaged, and how to dispose of old ammo safely.

Make Sure Your Ammo Really Needs to Go

First, you need to answer the question of whether the ammunition is bad or needs to be disposed of to begin with. The good news is that ammunition has a very long shelf life — most manufacturers list their products as having around a 10-year lifespan.

However, in many instances, as long as the ammunition isn't exposed to high heat or excessive moisture, it could last for years or even decades past the published expiration date.

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The caveat to this long shelf life is the same as it is with all things related to firearms: It's better to be safe than sorry.

It's much better to inadvertently dispose of good ammo than to try and shoot bad ammo. If there's any question about whether or not your ammunition is still good, err on the side of caution.

Most ammunition is fairly inexpensive, and there's no point in risking injury to shoot some ammo "just in case" it's still good.

Four Options for Disposing of Ammo

A few methods are available for safely and appropriately disposing of old or unwanted ammo. The method you choose is up to you, and the best way is the one that suits your needs and comfort level.

OPTION ONE: Call the Police

An easy option is to call your local police or sheriff's department via their non-emergency line and let them know you have ammunition you'd like to get rid of. They will let you know how to proceed.

They may offer to pick it up or ask you to bring it in, but once it's in their possession, the authorities handle the rest. If you decide to go the police route, there are a couple things to keep in mind.

  • Under no circumstances should you walk into a police station or sheriff's office openly carrying a weapon. No matter how harmless you think you look, you never want to take the chance that someone misunderstands your purpose for being there with a weapon.

  • Always make sure you have your driver's license or some form of identification with you. They'll likely want to make a record of the transaction to ensure a suitable paper trail showing you properly disposed of the ammunition.

  • Understand that the procedures involved vary by department and locale, so check your local department's website to see if any specifics are listed and call before you take any action if instructions aren't available online.

OPTION TWO: Waste Disposal Facilities

Most local waste management facilities don't accept ammunition. Whether a landfill or other type of facility, it's probably not equipped to handle ammunition as a waste product.

However, these facilities often have periodic disposal times during which you can bring ammo to them. They may contract with a hazardous waste company or other licensed provider that's equipped to handle unique waste such as ammo.

OPTION THREE: Your Local Gun Shop or Indoor Shooting Range

Gun Store, Gun Shop, Gun Range

Another option is your local gun store. As a firearms facility, gun stores handle a lot of ammunition. They may have a way of shipping ammo back to the manufacturer for disposal or access to a service that disposes ammo.

In addition, many gun stores have regular customers who spend many hours at the store, and some may reload ammunition.

Reloaders are equipped to break the ammunition down into smaller parts safely and may work with gun stores to buy old stock or repurpose turned-in ammo.

You might also ask about ammo disposal at indoor ranges. It's one of the main tasks these businesses deal with regularly. Sometimes ammo doesn't fire properly or there are instances of double feeds, jams, and other situations that leaves the range with live ammo to dispose of.

Since ranges likely already have a process for this, it doesn't hurt to ask if they accept ammo from customers for disposal.

OPTION FOUR: Reloading - DIY Ammunition Recycling

Ammo Reloading, Reloading Ammo, Ammo Recycling

This option isn't for everyone and requires that you have a commitment to safely and correctly reloading. You must have the right tools and be willing to learn how to identify rounds that are in the right condition for reloading.

Even if the ammo is bad, there could be some serviceable pieces for you to use to reduce waste.

Things to Keep in Mind

One last thing to keep in mind, though, is that you're likely to encounter some other advice for methods of ammo disposal along the way.

Sadly, many of these are questionable at best and outright old wives tales at worst.

For example, some people say to bury old ammo in your backyard. Some people will even claim the powder can be used in fertilizer. And while that's not impossible, it's also possible the other materials could have a toxic impact to your yard.

In addition, your locality may have laws forbidding such practices. Other advice you might hear consists of soaking ammo in water or oil to render the powder harmless so you can toss it in the trash.

While some of these “tips” may work in certain situations, they’re far from guaranteed methods of disposal.

If you have old, compromised, or otherwise unusable ammo you need to get rid of, it's best to stick to the previously mentioned methods of safe ammo disposal.

What Not to Do with Ammunition

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.

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As a dealer, I encourage customers to bring in anything that they feel they need to get rid of, not so that I can get a great deal from someone that just doesn't know what they have, but to offer free advice to a customer in need. I have taken old useless ammo in to be broken down and destroyed, but I always offer some type of compensation in good faith.
Don Harris
Give it to me!
Bemused Berserker
Good article. You're right about storage conditions and shelf life. A few years back my Grandfather passed and I was bequeathed his firearms and ammo (Mostly shotshells and .22 LR). Some of the .22's boxes were 50+ years old (the local stores they were price tagged closed in the late 60's). When I took a look at the old ammo, condition was still visibly good. I decided to limit the old ammo to use in one of my revolvers, because I suspected there would be failures to fire. Surprisingly, there were very few FTF's and the few that did fail, most worked when rotated in the cylinder for a second strike. Actual total FTF's were less than 1%. Since this ammo was stored in a cool, dark environment during those 50 odd years, it serves to illustrate that conditions were optimal and a prime factor in the ammo longevity. There were also a couple of boxes of .22's that were older yet (Western brand ammo, made before they became a subsidiary of Winchester). Those I set aside for their collected value.
Alan Waite
I've got German 8mm from 1939. Never had a misfire.
Kathryn Martin
If it was old ammo (that really, really needed to be destroyed due to years past its shelf life), it could be placed into a bucket filled with water and let it sit for a month, two months or longer. The water would seep down into the powder and destroy any possibility of it ever being used. Then it could be buried (if city/county ordinance did not prevent) , never to be dealt with again.
Many people think that just because ammunition is "old" that it isn't any good - it depends on how it was stored! Why toss it or bury it when you can use a bullet puller and recycle the bullet and casing?! Recycle whatever you can and use it in the future.
Roy W Mills
What about ammo that has corrosion on the case and where it is in the crease between the bullet and the casing?
Bought a coat from the Salvation Army. Four 20 GA shot shells in the pocket went through the wash. i have a 20ga bt with a rifled slug barrel, so i wont use them anyway. I was just going to bury them out on the back pasture.
Hello... I inherited 2 cases of 12 gage and 2 small shelf boxes of same- Winchester . I would like to safely dispose. I do not own a 12 gauge. Your advise is greatly appreciated. Thank you-
Thank you for the information. It's very informative and I will be following your advice.
Bruce Frank
I have about a 5 gallon bucket of damaged ammo. In a cross country move, the plastic container in which I transported it, was inadvertently left in a outside storage area. When I discovered it, after 5 years, the top cover was cracked and the container was full to the brim with water. Lot of corrosion including many sets of reloading dies. I have attempted to contact someone at the county shooting range, but message machine only and no one returns my calls. Any suggestions? I have considered burying it, but since there is lead present and it is CA, I don't want to be accused of lead pollution.