Saturday, September 23, 2023


Single-use propane cylinders may soon vanish in California. What to do

Probably none of us can imagine an RV campground built on top of a landfill. To that end, the push is always on for more recycling. Think about just one item—disposable one-pound propane cylinders. The little green guys you might stick on the bottom of a lantern, or use to fire your really portable gas grill. Each year, four million of them are sold in California alone. While a quarter are recycled, the rest—tossed in the trash. May not sound like much, but it amounts to about 2,200 garbage truck loads each year. It’s a lot of hazardous trash, and the Golden State is on the cusp of banning the sale of single-use propane cylinders, come 2028. What alternatives are there?

Refillable cylinders the order of the day

California’s SB 1256, already passed by both the Senate and the Assembly, is waiting for an expected signature from the governor. If approved, the law will ban the sale of the common, single-use LP cylinder popular among recreationists. No, the taller, skinnier cylinders commonly used for blowtorches will NOT be affected. But for those using the squat cylinders, life will not be the same. Refillable cylinders will become the order of the day.

Already, one company has positioned itself to benefit from the changeover. Little Kamper, a California outfit, already has a refillable one-pound gas cylinder system, and retailers to move them out. Buy a new, refillable cylinder for about $22, use it, then turn it back in for a refill. The refill will set you back about $11. Compare this to the cost of a little more than $5 each for a single-use cylinder, and you can imagine some not-so-happy campers contemplating the changes.

More than just a landfill headache

What’s the big deal, some ask. After all, it’s only a couple thousand garbage truck loads. The amount of space in landfills is truly a drop in the bucket. But there are other concerns. Each year, California’s Yosemite National Park is left with tossed-out single-use cylinders. Last year, the park was “gifted” with 24,000 of them, according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle. Those 24,000 were just the ones the park was aware of, which puts out special recycling containers to collect them. The ones that get tossed in a dumpster can cause real problems.

Back in 2016, a waste processing plant in Kent County, Michigan had a nasty experience. A single, one-pound propane cylinder went through a baler. It exploded, blasting a worker off the baler. The resulting fire and damage cost the county $68,000. All from a single cylinder. Hence, the push for refillable cylinders. At $22 a throw, it’s expected far fewer of these containers will be tossed out.

Once you’ve paid for the initial refillable cylinder, you’re still on the hook for the “exchange” price. $11 a refill for a single pound of propane is pretty spendy. It would be the equivalent of paying more than $200 to refill a small, 5-gallon RV cylinder. Even paying $5 for a non-refillable one-pound cylinder is driving some folks to become “do-it-yourself” propane refillers. With clever plumbing methods, they hook up empty single-use cylinders to a 5-gallon LP container and refill the throw-away. It’s NOT a wise thing to do.

Don’t “do it yourself”!

single-useDisposable propane cylinders are built far differently than their larger, refillable brothers. The metal walls of the disposable type are thin, and repeated contraction and expansion of those thin walls can lead to metal fatigue and eventual rupture. Likewise, a disposable’s valve is not designed for repeated use. And unlike an LP cylinder designed to be refilled, there’s no “bleeder” valve to indicate when the disposable is filled to the safe point, making overfilling a real problem. And while plenty of people refill their disposable cylinders without trouble, how much are you willing to gamble that you can get away with it?

While it is technically legal to refill a disposable cylinder, transporting it on a public highway is a very different matter. Federal regulations (administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation) prohibit transport of refilled “DOT 39” cylinders (of which classification small cylinders fall under). Violate that regulation, you’re liable for a fine of up to $500,000 and five years in prison.

Safely “do-it-yourself”


So what’s to do? Buy a new “refillable” for $22, then write off $11 every time you empty it for an exchange? Here’s another option: An outfit called Flame King offers cylinders designed for refill, along with a refill kit to pump your own. The cylinders are heavy-duty and, unlike single-use cylinders, are equipped with an “80% valve” that indicates when the safe “full” point has been reached.

How does it work? The refill system includes a stand on which you can safely place an inverted 20-pound cylinder. That cylinder is connected to an adapter, and it to the refillable cylinder. Using an included Allen wrench, you crack open the bleeder valve and press a dispensing lever on the adapter. When liquid propane begins to spit out of the bleeder valve, you let up on the fill lever, close the bleeder valve, and disconnect the refilled cylinder. Users happily report that unlike refills of disposable cylinders, it’s easy to get a full cylinder, with no need to stick it in a freezer to encourage a full-fill. There’s a video available on YouTube that shows the whole process.

Will it do for you?

You’ll need to run your figures to determine your break-even point. The whole kit, including the refill system and a single, one-pound refillable cylinder, runs $45. Additional cylinders should be cheap—but Amazon lists them at a price higher than an empty with the entire refill system. But says that those $22 cylinders sold by Little Kamper are the same cylinders made by Flame King, with a Little Kamper label. You should be able to refill Little Kamper cylinders with the Flame King kit.

Yes, the up-front cost may look a little imposing, but on the other hand, if you’re paying $5 per single-use cylinder, it doesn’t take much to figure the savings both financially and environmentally. And as opposed to the inherent dangers of refilling disposables, this Flame King system looks like a winner all around.


Russ and Tiña De Maris
Russ and Tiña De Maris
Russ and Tiña went from childhood tent camping to RVing in the 1980s when the ground got too hard. They've been tutored in the ways of RVing (and RV repair) by a series of rigs, from truck campers, to a fifth-wheel, and several travel trailers. In addition to writing scores of articles on RVing topics, they've also taught college classes for folks new to RVing. They authored the book, RV Boondocking Basics.


  1. Seems to me the problem is visitors who are flying in from somewhere and buy these bottles for their use and have not finished the bottles and then throw them away!! WHY NOT have a FREE drop off location so that others can use up the propane up and THEN the empty bottle can be recycled!! WHY do we have to go to these extremes with these laws!!??

  2. I have been using the Flame King one-pound refillable DOT propane cylinders for almost 15 years. The same regulations apply them as 5 lb BBQ tanks. I refill them myself as they are equipped with an outage valve for volume filling and with the tank weight stamped on cylinder, they can be weighed as well to prevent overfilling. After five refills, the cost of the refillable tank has paid for its self over purchase of single use disposable tanks.

  3. Yoho National park British Columbia Canada has a program that takes the 1 lb cylinders left at the recycling centers in each campground and has a contractor that takes them evacuates any remaining propane in it and then crushes them and sends them off for recycling. If Yoho National park can do this why can’t everyone?

  4. We avoid California, there’s too much crime and stupid laws. I was born there and spent 50 years there. I couldn’t leave fast enough.

        • The more folks that don’t go to California the better for those of us that do enjoy the outdoors wonders of the state.
          I use a 3# refillable with an appropriate adapter hose and only pay around $3 for a refill. Pricey at first purchase but worth it to me for convenience and sustainability.

  5. Thank you Russ and Tiña De Maris – great article with lots to learn and “stir up the troops” with provocative political/environmental aspects!
    Amazon supplier Endless Supply is already taking advantage of the FUD, charging $56 for a 16.4 oz EMPTY tank!!! Huh? Meanwhile, ordering the entire refill kit WITH the 16.4 oz empty cylinder is $45 direct from Amazon. So to purchase a few extra empty refillable tanks, it pays to shop around – doing a Google search I found them for $16/ea online so I bought a few, hoping their 3.75″W x 8.25″H size will work with my assorted gear and I won’t have to fiddle buying caps for slight leaks (probably why the existing Coleman 1 lb. cylinders have caps and we should save them).
    Regardless, these concerns are all “first world problems” compared to inevitable unsafe refilling techniques, unsafe environment, defective refill equipment, defective tanks, folks failing to do careful inspections, etc. Buy hey, that’s why folks “lawyer up” right?

    • BTW (and I should know better than get into the regulatory/environmental aspects with our fine campers), I’m not a “happy camper” regarding California’s implementation of its bottle redemption program. Many of our Counties either do not have any centers to take returns, have very few in a County or I am sorry to profess, the lowball low-margin private businesses who run the programs have horrific customer service practices.
      At least our government agrees they have a mess on their hands! (proverbial and literal)
      I’m all for REASONABLE measures to protect the environment, but less than thrilled by platitudes when it comes to implementation and we get a first-hand experience on how “sausage is really made…” (or not)

  6. I enjoyed the article about banning one use propane cylinders and have some observations:
    $11 is a ludicrous amount to pay for a one pound bottle ($5 is only ridiculous) but only some folks will be willing to accept it. Others will find a way around it, possibly to their detriment.

    Although single use bottles are made of an alloy that doesn’t support multiple fillings, they do have an 80 percent fill valve so they can be refilled to the proper level.

    Flame King apparently saw this coming a few years ago. Back about 2017 they started offering their refillable cylinders for around $10 each. I started stocking up on them because I really liked the appliances they serve but disliked the expense and waste of disposables. I currently have 20 of them that I rotate. They cost about $.75 each to fill.

  7. I have tried in many states and locations to figure out how to recycle my 4 or 5 green canisters without success. I hate to just throw them in the trash. I now have a 5 lb cylinder that I can use on my QWeber and my fire pit. I still need ot know what to do with my greenies.

  8. For those of you who think a deposit will be enough to get people to not throw them away, in the 1950s all sodas came in bottles and the deposit was 2 cents a bottle. All retailers accepted empty bottles and gave you the deposit back in cash. This at a time when the minimum wage was 75 cents and hour. (It went to $1.00 in 1956.) On our way to the fishing hole, my Grandfather and I would watch the ditches along the side of the road, and when we saw a bottle, if it was safe to stop, we would pick it up. In a mile or so, we would have enough bottles to buy a couple of sodas and sandwiches and candy bars for our lunch. With a little luck, we had fish for dinner. The moral of the story is that even back then, a lot of people just couldn’t be bothered to return/recycle.

    • Even with aluminum cans it was a reason to stop and pick them up from the side of the road, they like bottles sort of self recycled. The stupid plastic bottles just lie there, and lie there and lie there.

      • I don’t like it, but if we have to put a deposit on every plastic container and propane bottle, then we should. That way someone will pick it up and “recycle” it for the 2 cents that I got as a kid in returning a pop bottle, even if the purchaser just tosses it aside. As an adult, I would stop and get aluminum cans. I recycled roadside cans by the thousands. Free money. I still pick up pennies off the ground. Did you know that for every 100 you could turn them in for a dollar?

  9. Recycling sounds reasonable unless you consider the cost & danger of dealing with thousands of little bombs. Obviously we can not depend on people using every small cylinder till 100% empty and since some have and would continue to dispose of cylinders that can kill a person, so I don’t see how recycling can be a viable option. The bottom line is that we simply have too many people to continue to use the Earth as a convenient trash receptacle. Also while the numbers may be small there are too many that feel self important and that rules and guidelines do not apply to them (see the earlier articles of graffiti on 1,000 year old petroglyphs). Yes it is too bad that many will have to pay for the irresponsible actions of a few.

    • Our local recycling facilities have a dedicated small dumpster just for these bottles. So yes some one has to remove the stem from the Schraeder valve, but they are then safe to go with the other metal to be recycled.

  10. I don’t see anything about recycling these single use propane cylinders. Being some type of metal at least they’ll decompose. Why don’t they make larger refillable small tanks cheaper. They’ve got grocery stores to do away with plastic bags and charge us for paper grocery bags. Environmentalists have the money to make our life miserable. Instead of coming up with replacement solutions that don’t rob our wallets.

    • Bob, what we’re talking about here is placing the costs of waste back where they belong: with you and me, the consumers of plastic, and propane bottles, etc. A price WILL be paid for our use of these materials. Either we pay them monetarily, or the environment in which we live pays them. (And, of course, in the end, you and I are still paying the price, because we are messing in our own nest.)

  11. I am amazed that CA is still ‘allowing’ the burning of propane. Surely this is as big a producer of carbon emissions as weed wackers, generators, and cow farts!

    (Please don’t misinterprete my sarcasm)

  12. My former home has gone insane. If Yosemite has 24k cylinders, “recycle” them. What the heck?
    Sorry CA – YOU voted for these morons. . You refused to recall Newsom. Fortunately, there are enough other sane populous states that refuse to bend and allow their citizens to live.
    You’ll be lighting candles soon until Newsom is told they emit too much CO2.
    We RV west and stop at the CA, OR and WA borders. The west coast is most too us.

    • Aw, don’t lump us all in the same barrel. I’ve lived here all 70 of my years and used to think this was a wonderful state. I’d leave in a heartbeat, but can’t budge my husband despite how much he hates the state of the State. (Let’s not even mention the handling of the homeless and the tents and garbage that line the sidewalks of most cities here.) Newsom – and many of the legislators – are nothing more than bought and paid for shills. I didn’t vote for ANY of them.

  13. If you are going to refill your 1 pounders, I would suggest purchasing a 5-set of the brass caps that have a gasket in them. They protect the threads and also stop the tiny little leak 99% of the population do not know about. When using the bottles over and over, they develop a tiny little leak, it can only be noticed with a smear of soap across the port, it may only be a BB size bubble every second but over time it empties the cylinder. Great post,

  14. Seems a deposit is the way to go. Great for those who properly refill. But based on the photos and report most users don’t know about refilling or don’t care to refill.

  15. Way to totally miss the obvious solution, guys. As several other commenters have said, an adapter hose is readily available, and can be attached to any standard propane tank. I have a little green one that I’ve carried in case my five-pounder goes dry mid-burger . . . and that little green one is probably fifteen years old, never used. This ain’t hard.

  16. Just require a high deposit on all single use cylinders, most if not all will be exchanged when a new cylinder is required. Just a thought.

  17. Everyone seems to complain about how the environment is being ruined, but have a major NIMBY complex!
    We don’t use disposable propane bottles, we simply bought an adapter and a 15′ hose and now our BBQ runs off the 30 lb. RV tanks. Too easy.
    Not that this post discusses it, but we don’t use bottled water either. A good supply filter and a Brita inside works fine.

    • We use a refill 30# tank with the adapter hose, also. We drink water out of the tap and have a well. On the road we take refillable water bottles. We don’t put stuff in the garbage unless it cannot be recycled.

  18. The individual Flame King cylinders have not been available for purchase for months. I have several and I’ve been looking for a couple more. Not sure, but there was a recall on some of their cylinders which may have impacted their production.

    Unless absolutely needed for the application, I will use my 5# and 11# cylinders instead,

  19. Will these refill kits let me refill from already regulated gas? I will happily buy a kit if it is easy to refill canisters from my RV quick-connect line. I like using the one pound canisters because they make it easy to set my grill and stove up anywhere on my campsite. I also use one pound canisters on my apartment balcony, because refilling five or ten pound tanks in an urban area is almost impossible and I don’t have space for a 20 pound tank. It would be great if a business set up small refill stations for smaller tanks, or even for these one pound tanks. The labor costs may prohibit that, though.

    • Refill kits transfer liquid propane from an inverted propane bottle. Propane from a regulator is gas so it will not fill the canister with liquid.

  20. With every change will come an entrepreneur. I’m not surprised that a company is out there ready in the waiting with an exchange program for 1 pound cylinders. Good for them. However if you desire to avoid the headache altogether just get an adaptor hose and start using 5, 10. 20 or 30 pound bottles. They’re safer anyway.

  21. I have been refilling my 1 pound single use bottles for 10 years !
    i fill to aprox 60%
    and obviously do not carry them in my car !
    i have never had one leak or fail
    its my choice and i back it !

  22. I have been a full timer for 12 years and I have never used those 1 lb cylinders. I have always used 20 or 30 lb. with an adapter hose . Cheaper and safer.

  23. I’m a snowbird that for over the last 15 years has been wintering in southern California. In that time I have found California’s recycling to be laughable when it comes to tourists. Where I stay and in that area there is no place to recycle anything. Yes they do have pop can and bottle recycling but if you take a load in and you’re not from California they send you on your way they won’t take it. If California really wants to have the green crown then they have to address this issue because there are many of us who want to recycle but can’t.

  24. Check any recycling bin. In every one, you will find improper items. People are lazy and don’t have a single care about correct items.
    Out of sight, out of mind.

  25. I purchased a 10 lb propane tank and a 6′ adapter hose, for my table top grill, 40 years ago had to replace the tank 2 years ago. I carry the taller, skinnier 1 lb cylinder to use in case the 10 lb goes empty and in need to finish cooking, but I usually get the 10 lb refilled before it’s empty. Much cheaper to refill the 10 lb tank, but the initial cost of the 10 lb is more than a 20 lb tank.
    As the article said, the taller, skinnier 1 lb will still be available and they’re usually cheaper than the squat 1 lb cylinder.

  26. We’ve been using the Flame King refill kit a couple of years and are very happy with it. Unfortunately the price has doubled since we purchased ours. There’s no reason a 1 pound cylinder should cost as much as the 20 pound (5 gallon) cylinders. Hopefully competition will drive the price back down.


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